Tens of thousands of raucous revelers lined a sunny Fifth Avenue yesterday to watch as bagpipers, drummers, and men and women of Irish descent proudly marched in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Soldiers from the New York National Guard's Fighting 69th led marchers up the 2-mile route, which stretched from 44th to 86th streets. The parade lasted more than six hours, and temperatures stayed in the 50s for much of the day.
"The weather is beautiful, and we couldn't have hoped for a better March 17, since the weather's usually uncertain this time of year," said a parade organizer, Michael Keating, 69, who first marched 55 years ago.
Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg was Irish, attending Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, hosting a breakfast and marching in the parade.
Not far behind the mayor was the Selden pipe and drum band Siol na h'Eireann, "seed of Ireland."
"Everything about piping boils down to this parade," said pipe major Vincent Robinson. "The feeling you get when you turn onto Fifth Avenue - oh, there's nothing like it. You feel like you're walking on pillows of air."
A sad note rang through the festivities when a member of a New Jersey police band suffered a fatal heart attack, The Associated Press reported. Steve Dunne, 59, a tenor drummer in the Police Pipes and Drums of Bergen County, collapsed near 75th Street and was pronounced dead at a hospital about 12:30 p.m.
Kings Park resident Ann Goughan, 56, originally from Skerries, north of Dublin, was thinking of family members back home.
"The economy in Ireland is falling like a house of cards," she said. "Ireland has been booming for the last 10 years, but not anymore. I think [my relatives] are feeling it now, or they're going to feel it."
London residents Michael Hurley, 57, originally from Cork City, Ireland, and his fiancee, Kathleen Boyle, 54, originally from Donegal, wore green-sequined hats, and orange, white and green scarves.
"We got here Monday, and people are so friendly," Hurley said. "We were recommended to come to the parade, and it's so good."