Enthusiasm for everything Irish spilled over Saturday at New York City's 252nd St. Patrick's Day Parade, from green suspenders and finger paint to bagpipe renditions of Irish folk songs.
But few of the estimated hundreds of thousands in attendance rivaled the ardor of Patrick Shannon, an acclaimed Irish-American from Levittown who died of cancer last July at 81, and whose devotion to cultural groups was commemorated on Fifth Avenue in a special ceremony in the middle of the procession.
Just how much did Shannon love the parade? Well, after receiving an aide-to-the-Grand-Marshal sash in an earlier march, Shannon was buried in the decoration, said his son Kevin, 56, who watched from a seat of honor Saturday with his mother, Della. "It was one of his most proud moments," Kevin Shannon of Levittown said.
The ceremony for Shannon, whom parade chairman John Dunleavy described as "one of the finest individuals to come down the pike," featured a bagpipe performance of "Amazing Grace" by members of Shannon's former Catholic fraternal order, the Babylon branch of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.
The group was among hundreds in the parade, which saw spectators and participants braving chilly temperatures in the 30s and occasional heavy snow. Police said there were no arrests.
Few were deterred, especially because the parade was held on a Saturday. Typically it's on March 17, but this year, it was held early to avoid conflicts with Sunday church services -- allowing revelers to exercise perhaps even less restraint than usual.
"Nobody has to go to school or work in the morning," said Jerry Woods, 43, who watched near East 71st Street with his family and friends from the Bronx. "It's a beautiful thing."
Long Islanders were interspersed throughout, including several high school groups and a band of drummers and pipers made up of about five dozen Nassau County police officers. They were competing for awards based on music, marching skill and "overall deportment," drum major Michael Hayes of Wantagh said.
"We're serious," said Hayes, 62, a former highway patrolman. "Once you start performing, you consider yourself a professional."
For Shannon's friends and family, the day was also melancholy -- until the parade ended, said Jerry Belmont, president of Shannon's local fraternal order.
"Pat wouldn't want it to be somber," said Belmont, 52. "I might have a lot of tears, but you know what? I'm going to have a beer, and I'm going to celebrate his life, because that's what he'd want me to do."