Millions mark Saint Patrick's Day with parades, parties

Millions of revellers took to the streets of New York, Dublin and other cities around the world Monday to mark Saint Patrick's Day with colourful parades and the odd drink.

New York's Fifth Avenue hosted the city's 247th annual parade under clear skies in chilly temperatures, as the traditional pipes and drums marching bands made their way through crowds of people wearing green hats and scarves.

Up to three million people were expected to take part in the festivities in New York, which has one of the largest concentrations of Irish immigrants in the United States along with Boston, Chicago and Savannah, Georgia.

The New York Fire Department was returned to near the head of the parade after being relegated to a lower order last year over criticisms the firefighters always showed up for the parade drunk.

More than one in 10 Americans, nearly 36 million people, claim Irish ancestry, according to a study by the US census bureau in 2006, compared to a total population in Ireland of just four million.

In Chicago, the river was dyed green on Saturday at the launch of a parade of nearly 200 floats, bagpipers, bands, Irish dancers and local dignitaries.

Tens of thousands of people decked out in green got their Irish on for the second major parade during more than a week of celebration of the city's rich Irish heritage.

The brewers of Guinness, the Irish national drink, used the occasion to promote their campaign to have Saint Patrick's Day recognized as a national holiday in the United States.

"All in favor, raise your pints!" the company said on its website.


In Ireland itself, an estimated half a million people watched the country's biggest event in the capital, Dublin, where a 3,000-strong parade snaked its way through the city center.

The procession was bolstered by 16 marching bands from countries including Ireland, Japan, Italy and the United States and members of Ireland's burgeoning immigrant population.

Other parades were held across the country while a cross-community, multi-cultural parade was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

President Mary McAleese, who reviewed the Dublin pageant, said the Belfast event was particularly poignant because it was the first since a power-sharing government was set up in Northern Ireland last May.

"This year, more than any in our recent past, is one to savour with special joy," she said.

"The welcome return of devolved government to Northern Ireland has brought to the island of Ireland a promising era of peace, prosperity and partnership," she added.

Beijing held its first Saint Patrick's Day parade this year and, for those unable to get to the real thing, Ireland's tourism body hosted the world's first parade in online virtual world Second Life.

Irish premier Bertie Ahern was in Washington for the celebrations, where he presented US President George W. Bush with the traditional bowl of shamrock, the green plant that is the nation's symbol.

The two will also hold talks on Northern Ireland and US trade and investment in Ireland, among other issues, a statement from Ahern's office said.

Most of Ahern's ministers are scattered around the globe, using the occasion to try to drum up new investment and boost tourism.

Saint Patrick's Day is one of the most recognized holidays on the global calendar and is considered an excuse to party from Tokyo and Moscow to Sydney and Shanghai, regardless of national heritage.

Ireland's patron saint, whose feast day has been on the calendar since the ninth century, is credited with converting the country to Christianity.