Long Islanders and paradegoers in kilts and green paint came to New York City from all over the nation on Wednesday to join what organizers bill as the world’s oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day parade.
As many as a quarter-million marchers headed up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, just as crowds gathered along parade routes in cities around the country to mark the emerald-hued holiday.
The celebration of Irish heritage and culture in New York includes bands, bagpipes and grand marshal Ray Kelly, the city’s police commissioner.
Phil Giovanniello, an Air Force military police officer on leave from Iraq, leaned over the police barricades near the start of the route at 44th Street, smoking a cigar and taking in the sea of green.
“This is my first parade,” said Giovanniello, of Rochester. “And it feels great.”
The 249th St. Patrick’s Day extravaganza will be the last of New York City’s world-famous parades to take place before new restrictions go into effect April 1 requiring all parades to be shorter to save money.
John Rupy, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., considered this news along the parade route, where he arrived dressed in a kilt with his skin painted green.
“That’s not good,” he said, “because the whole world comes to this.”
The city issued the new parade rules in February. All parades must cut routes by 25 percent and reduce time to less than five hours, changes estimated to save $3.1 million in police expenses.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade runs about 2.1 miles from 44th Street to 86th Street and is typically a six-hour celebration.
Some welcomed the idea of a pared-down event.
“It’ll be good because people will be able to get where they’re going easier,” said Yogesh Pai, of Henderson, Texas, as he navigated the crowd with his 5-year-old son.
Parade participants on Wednesday included the “Fighting 69th,” a New York National Guard unit whose history stretches to the U.S. Civil War when immigrants made up the so-called “Irish Brigade” of the Union Army.
Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before the parade.
Representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups were not allowed to participate in the march — at least, not under their own banner.
Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who run the nation’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebration, say they may invite whomever they please.
The day is named after St. Patrick, who introduced Christianity to Ireland about 1,500 years ago and became the country’s patron saint.
He was born in Britain to an aristocratic Christian family, according to classics professor Philip Freeman of Luther College in Iowa, who authored the book “St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.”
At 16, Patrick is said to have been kidnapped and sent to then pagan Ireland to tend sheep. He was eventually ordained a priest and spent the rest of his life converting the Irish to Christianity.
The 249th NYC St. Patrick's Day parade begins 11 a.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Fifth Avenue, from East 44th to East 86th streets. Organizers advise people who want to avoid crowds to watch from 66th to 86th streets. They also recommend the upper steps of Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street. One NYPD official said the area north of 73rd Street also is usually less crowded.
GETTING THERE: 4, 5, and 6 lines
ATTENDANCE: 250,000 participants, 2 million paradegoers expected
The LIRR will provide 17 extra trains, nine westbound and eight eastbound, for those traveling to and from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan, according to the MTA's Web site. LIRR officials also reminded customers that alocholic beverages, open or closed, are not allowed on trains, platforms and stations and bar carts will not be in operation.
Additional trains later today include:
Eastbound from Penn Station
2:22 p.m. express to Lynbrook, then Rockville Centre and all stops to Babylon.
3:00 p.m. stopping at Jamaica, Rockville Centre, then all stops to Babylon.
3:31 p.m. express to Rockville Centre, then all stops to Babylon.
Port Jefferson Branch
2:09 p.m. stopping at Jamaica, Carle Place, then all stops to Huntington.
2:26 p.m. stopping at Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Jamaica, New Hyde Park, then all stops to Huntington.
3:24 p.m. stopping at Jamaica, Mineola, Westbury and Hicksville.
Port Washington Branch
3:40 p.m. stopping at Woodside, Flushing Main St., then all stops to Great Neck.
Far Rockaway Branch
3:48 p.m. express to Locust Manor, then all stops to Far Rockaway.
Parade information compiled by Anthony M. DeStefano and newsday.com