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St. Patrick's Day parade draws revelers to Fifth Avenue

Thousands descend on the Manhattan street to celebrate the Irish and immigration - the theme of this year's parade.

Brian O’Dwyer, grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan, speaks Saturday. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

Twelve-year-old Liam Murphy's mom, Margaret Graves, said she wants her boy to celebrate his roots.

So Graves brought him Saturday to the world's largest St. Patrick's Day parade, where she hopes he will march someday like other men in the family.

"Honestly, I’m trying to inspire him," said Graves, 52, of Brooklyn, an assistant principal. She added: "My father marched in the parade. My grandfather marched in the parade. It's part of his heritage."

The pair were among more than 1 million spectators estimated by the parade committee to line Fifth Avenue for the annual celebration of Irish culture.

"I like how they all march together," said Liam, who, like his mom, wore almost all green. 

The parade's official theme this year was supporting immigration. The grand marshal, Brian O’Dwyer, is an activist and immigration lawyer whose father, Paul, a former City Council president, and uncle, William, the 100th mayor of New York City, were once grand marshals, too.

On Saturday, O’Dwyer marched up Fifth Avenue in the 257-year-old parade with five Latino immigrants. He said they all were legally in the country. He joked that he would walk quickly past the namesake tower of President Donald Trump, who has enacted policies for less immigration and wants to build a wall at the Mexico border. 

"We're going to show the universality of immigration. This is not just about Irish immigration, it's about all immigrants — and welcoming all immigrants. Because those who despise immigrants despise their ancestors," he said.

O’Dwyer was joined by an NYPD delegation and the New York National Guard’s Fighting 69th Infantry, which was initially formed as a militia unit for Irish immigrants. The Fighting 69th first joined the parade in 1851 in case of anti-immigrant violence against the Irish.

Outgoing Malverne Mayor Patti McDonald and her son, NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald, marched in the parade under a banner for NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, cheered and applauded by spectators. 

Steven McDonald was shot and paralyzed during a robbery in 1986 but continued to participate in the parade for years after. His widow says she has photos of their son on his dad's lap in the parade. 

“I kind of feel his presence here,” Patti McDonald said of her late husband. 

Chief of Counterterrorism James Waters said the NYPD has curbed paradegoer intoxication that characterized the parade of "years ago, before we really pressed hard to enforce the no-alcohol on the route, and so it's been a very orderly parade for many, many years."

But Penn Station was not a haven for teetotalers. Young celebrants, some jonesing for a drink, others stumbling already, were emerging from the tracks early in the afternoon into Manhattan ready for a party.

"I'm not as think as you drunk I am!" said one emerald-green T-shirt. Read another: "I don't get drunk. I get awesome."

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