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Thousands brave cold temps at St. Pat's parade

Revelers dressed as leprechauns line the barricades as

Revelers dressed as leprechauns line the barricades as they watch the annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue on March 17, 2014. Credit: Bryan Smith

Thousands of Irish -- whether by birth or in spirit -- braved chilly winds and controversy Monday to enjoy the sights and sounds of the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day parade, the nation's largest.

The Manhattan parade stepped off in subfreezing temperatures that were below normal for this time of year. But there was no lack of enthusiasm among the green-bedecked throng.

"I love the bands and the men in uniform," said Sandy Michelsen, 58, of Glen Cove. "This is beautiful."

"We're glad we're right up against the road, so all the people behind us block the wind," Michelsen said with a laugh from her prime viewing spot.

And unlike last year's parade, it didn't snow.

"This is a day at the beach," compared with last year, quipped Michelsen's friend, Donna Muzante, 58, of East Norwich.

VIPs reviewed the parade from the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was shrouded in scaffolding for a $175 million renovation. John T. Ahern, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, was the grand marshal.

The parade had been dogged by controversy. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council boycotted the parade over its exclusion of lesbian and gay groups. Guinness USA withdrew its sponsorship for the same reason. But Police Commissioner William Bratton marched in it, as did dozens of members of both the NYPD and FDNY.

About 100 protesters stood on a designated spot on the parade route, on Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets, holding a rainbow banner reading "Boycott Homophobia."

"We think that everyone in the Irish community should have the right to march, and that includes the LGBT community," said Gaby Cryan, 30, of Brooklyn. "We don't want to march closeted. The fact that a beer company is ahead of the City of New York is embarrassing."

Paradegoer Courtney Coudrey of Manorville, 21, who was inspired to attend by her late grandmother's fondness for Irish culture, expressed sympathy for that point of view.

"I don't think anybody should be discriminated against," she said.

But Maureen Sauter, 50, of Shirley, said the protest was out of place at the celebration. "Hold your own parade," she said of the protesters. "I'm not going as a heterosexual Irish person, I'm just going as an Irish person."

As the parade marched uptown on Fifth Avenue, several bagpipe bands warmed up their lungs and their fingers at a staging area on West 45th Street.

Among them was Hempstead Police Sgt. Kevin Galvin, who was performing with the Nassau County Police Department Pipes and Drums after taking up the bagpipes three years ago at age 44.

Galvin didn't mind Monday's weather, or the snow the year before. "Are you kidding?" he said. "Snowflakes falling on your hat and you can't see where you're going? It was great."

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