Bethpage's parade took place two weeks before the holiday, but it felt like summer. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Bethpage helped kick off the St. Patrick’s Day parade season Sunday with its 32nd annual procession, this year including more than 20 Long Island fire companies, a Kiwanis group, vintage cars, boys and girls scout troops and eight bagpipe bands.

The cacophony of dozens of pipers and drummers from Long Island and New York City warming up carried for blocks as they mustered in preparation for the parade, making adjustments in their tweed paddy caps and tall black busby hats, tartan kilts and spats.

George Bello, a drummer with the Clan Gordon Highlanders Pipe Band, based in Locust Valley, said he has marched in the Bethpage St. Patrick’s Day parade — and others religiously celebrating the day — for many years.

“It’s gospel,” Bello said.

The crowds are smaller now than they were decades ago, he said, and fewer young people seem to be interested in learning the bagpipes and drums. Bello blamed electronics.

“It takes a lot of hours” to learn, “and you gotta put your phone down.” His group does have two new young members — a sister pair: one drummer and one piper.

Harrison Warehime, 4, of Bethpage waves as marchers in the...

Harrison Warehime, 4, of Bethpage waves as marchers in the Bethpage St. Patrick's Day parade make their way along the route on Sunday. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Events began Sunday with Mass at St. Martin of Tours R.C. Church and continued outside under clear blue skies and bright sunshine with the start of the parade on Central Avenue. Ray O'Donnell, a former member of the NYPD and a Bethpage resident for more than 50 years, served as parade grand marshal.

“It's an honor and a privilege,” O'Donnell said.

Marching and performing with the Highlanders is a family tradition for Richard Michie. He played drums and marched with bagpipers for 27 years. For the past decade, Michie said Sunday, he’s been a spectator, but has passed the tradition on to his son, a piper, and to his grandson, Tyler Michie, 16. Tyler said he has been playing with the band “my whole life,” and is now a drum sergeant.

Tom Fleming, a retired officer in the Nassau County Police Department, marched on Sunday with the Nassau County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band. He took up the bagpipes 30 years ago, attracted by the “tradition” and “a sense of pride in my heritage.”

The parade is also a tradition for members of area Brownie and Girl Scout troops. Teresa Fryer, who has Irish and Scottish ancestry, said her 13-year-old daughter marched when she was a scout. Sunday was her 9-year-old daughter's turn.

“It’s a fun day,” Fryer said, “My kids get a kick out of it.”

Casey Reinhardt, 9, who sported shamrocks on each cheek, has marched in the parade for “three or four years.” Casey said she enjoys the parade as a chance to “spend time with my friends”— and “to get a lot of steps in.” Her friend Camilla Fieger, 7, said it was her third year marching, and agreed it was a fun way to spend time with her friends, and also her grandparents.

As the parade made its way along Central Avenue, the procession passed the house where Malia Shariff, 7, has lived her whole life. Malia, who had stuck a small Irish flag jauntily in her ponytail, agreed with the thought that anyone can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, no matter your heritage. Asked about the music of the bagpipe groups passing by, she pronounced it “quite good.”

With Steve Langford

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