(CBS/AP) DUBLIN - An estimated 500,000 people crowded Saturday into central Dublin to view the St. Patrick's Day parade, a focal point for Irish celebrations worldwide and the start of the tourist season in debt-battered Ireland.
Bands from Britain, the United States and Russia joined thousands of Irish volunteers on Saturday's two-hour procession down Dublin's major boulevard, O'Connell Street, across the River Liffey, past Trinity College and concluding outside St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Parades were also on order in Boston, New York, Chicago, Savannah, Ga., and in such Emerald Isle enclaves as Moscow, where a St. Patrick's Day parade wended down Arbat Street, site of recent anti-Putin rallies.
In his St. Patrick's Day message, Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady offered prayers to the estimated 50,000 citizens who have emigrated in the past year to escape Ireland's weak economy.
Unemployment stands at 14.4 percent despite the resumption of emigration at levels last seen in the 1980s. Ireland has been forced to raise taxes and slash spending for four straight years and since 2011 has been dependent on foreign loans to pay its government bills.
Seventeen government ministers have left Ireland this week to lobby 15 countries for increased investment and tourism. Prime Minister Enda Kenny is grand marshal of Saturday's parade in Chicago.
"I am keenly aware of the huge numbers who have emigrated from Ireland in recent times, especially those who felt they had no choice," said Brady, spiritual leader of 4 million Catholics in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
"May the memory of St. Patrick, who was himself carried off from his homeland at the age of 16, sustain all those who have left our shores for other lands," Brady said, referring to the saint's legendary background as a slave imported from Britain. "May the example of Patrick's faith in God, who comforted and protected him, protect and comfort them also."
The Catholic Church in Ireland also launched an online information pack for emigrants.
Brady was presiding Saturday over a special service honoring both St. Patrick and the Vatican's new diplomat to Ireland, New York-born Archbishop Charles Brown. At a service in Armagh, Ireland's ecclesiastical capital located in Northern Ireland, the two men planned to bless sprigs of shamrock for the congregation and then take part in Armagh's own parade.
Saturday's Dublin parade is just one of more than 50 across Ireland, many of them rowdy village affairs. The capital is also running a four-day St. Patrick's Festival through Monday that features live performances and amusement park rides in several parts of the city center, although the fireworks show has been canceled, another casualty of austerity.
The city's two most popular tourist attractions, the Guinness brewery and Dublin Zoo, both offered nods to the day's mix of patriotism and partying. Zoo animals were being fed special mixes of oranges and vegetables, mimicking the green and orange of the Irish flag, while Guinness was offering free admission to any visitors named Patrick.
Aldershot, United Kingdom
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, celebrated the holiday with a ceremony at the barracks of the 1st Battalion Irish Guard, who came out in full ceremonial uniform of scarlet tunics and bearskins, playing traditional music.
The Duchess wore a racing green dress as she presented shamrocks to officers. Kate also honored the regimental mascot, an Irish Wolfhound names Conmeal.
It was Kate's first solo military ceremony since her marriage to Prince William.
A sea of green, kilts and bagpipes flowed along 5th Avenue as big crowds gathered for the city's 251st annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the city's Roman Catholics, announced before the parade stepped off that iconic St. Patrick's Cathedral would undergo a $175 million renovation. He said the first phase will involve cleaning the cathedral's soot-damaged exterior and replacing its windows.
Other revelers will be holding a "Sober St. Patrick's Day" celebration at a high school on the Manhattan's Upper East Side. The alcohol-free bash will include Irish step dancers, pipe bands and other musical acts.
Thousands of gaudy green revelers jammed the cobblestone streets and oak-shaded squares of Savannah for the South's largest St. Patrick's Day parade.
Veteran parade watchers began staking out spots along the downtown parade route overnight. By the time the parade stepped off Saturday morning, folding chairs were piled three-deep on the sidewalks.
Patrons were spilling out the doors by 9:30 a.m. at Pinkie Master's Lounge, where patron Timmy Watkins bought himself two beers after waiting in line for a half-hour.
Joyce Fischer, a Savannah native who's been celebrating St. Patrick's Day here since she was a girl in the 1940s, says she expects the 2012 celebration will be one of the largest ever.
The weather is cooperating, with a sunny 85 degrees forecast.
Thousands gathered Saturday morning along the Chicago River, some in shamrock-shaped sunglasses and others dressed as leprechauns with strap-on orange beards. Applause erupted as a motor boat sped in circles and a man on board dumped a secret dye in the water, turning it a psychedelic green in just minutes. The much-loved, annual ritual officially kicks off a day of parades and wild parties.
This year, the guest of honor was Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who appeared at City Hall with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Both men sported green ties and shamrocks in their lapels.
Kenny said he was honored to take part in Chicago's parade and praised the city with a large Irish population for being so open and receptive to immigrants.
"It's a real privilege for me, as leader of my country, to come to Chicago on this St. Patrick's Day 2012 and participate in the parade," Kenny said. "And that's a privilege that I shall remember for a long time."