- Associated Press - Saturday, March 16, 2013

NEW YORK — Crowds cheered and bagpipes bellowed as New York City’s annual St. Patrick's Day parade kicked off Saturday, and people with a fondness for anything Irish began a weekend of festivities from the Louisiana bayou to Dublin.

With the holiday itself falling on a Sunday, many celebrations were scheduled instead for Saturday because of religious observances.

In New York, the massive parade, which predates the United States, was led by 750 members of the New York Army National Guard. The 1st Battalion of the 69th Infantry has been marching in the parade since 1851.

Michael Bloomberg took in his last St. Patrick's Day parade as mayor, waving to a cheering crowd as snowflakes fell on Fifth Avenue.

Marching just behind him was Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who presented Bloomberg with a historic Irish teapot earlier.

“The Irish are found in every borough, every corner of New York,” Kenny said at a holiday breakfast. “In previous generations they came heartbroken and hungry, in search of new life, new hope; today they come in search of opportunity to work in finance, fashion, film.”

Hundreds of thousands lined the parade route in New York, cheering the marching bands, dance troupes and politicians.

“We’re crazy, the Irish, we’re funny and we talk to everyone,” said 23-year-old Lauren Dawson, of Paramus, N.J., who came to her first St. Patrick's Day parade.

In downtown Chicago, thousands along the Chicago River cheered as workers on a boat dumped dye into the water, turning it a bright fluorescent green for at least a few hours in an eye-catching local custom.

In a sea of people in green shirts, coats, winter hats, sunglasses and even wigs and beards, 29-year-old Ben May managed to stand out. The Elkhart, Ind., man wore a full leprechaun costume, complete with a tall green hat he had to hold onto in the wind.

“I’ve got a little Irish in me, so I’m supporting the cause,” he said.

May bought the outfit online to wear to Notre Dame football games. But he figured it was fitting for this occasion too.

“I probably will get to drink for free,” he said, after posing for a photograph with a group of women.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” said his girlfriend, Angela Gibson.

Kenny, who visited Chicago for St. Patrick's Day last year, was again making the holiday a jumping-off point for an extended trip to the U.S., with stops in Washington and on the West Coast over the ensuing several days.

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