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Crowds Hit Fifth Avenue For St. Patrick's Day Parade

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- One of the great New York City traditions, the St. Patrick's Day Parade, headed up Fifth Avenue Saturday.

As CBS 2's Alice Gainer reported, nearly 2 250,000 marchers headed up Fifth Avenue for the 252nd annual parade, which made its way from 44th Street to 79th Street.

Just about every single Irish-American civic and community group was represented.

PHOTOS:2013 St. Patrick's Day Parade

WCBS 880's Alex Silverman saw the Breezy Point Catholic Club march past, for a parade that had special meaning as their area has been rebuilding after being hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. A vast variety of other groups also marched down Fifth Avenue, from a group of Boy Scouts with glockenspiels to political figures – including Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.

Crowds Hit Fifth Avenue For St. Patrick's Day Parade

Snowflakes fell for much of the parade, but it didn't dampen the spirit as people lined the streets with green hats and beads, Irish wigs and Irish sweaters.

Also, for the first time, the Taoiseach of Ireland, Enda Kenny, was present, 1010 WINS' Eileen Lehpamer reported.

Crowds Hit Fifth Avenue For St. Patrick's Day Parade

"We still have a long way to go. We've made very big progress in the last two years, and we can report that to our American diaspora and our American colleagues – Ireland's on the way back," Kenny said.

Also present was NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who is in his 25th year in the parade. McDonald was shot on the job on July 12, 1986, and was left a quadriplegic. But like his own situation, he expressed optimism for the future – particularly given that contingents from Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Breezy Point Queens, and from Newtown, Conn., where the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre took place, were also participating in the parade.

"This shows the great strength and character of the people of the metropolitan area – we're going to survive those terrible experiences and be much stronger," McDonald said.

One couple even got engaged at the parade. NYPD Officer John Vealling, of the 115th Precinct in Queens, proposed to his fiancée, Kelly.

"We're very Irish. I just wanted to keep it in that suggestion – staying Irish. It's been a big day for us," Vealling told 1010 WINS' Eileen Lehpamer.

Typically, New York City's parade is held on March 17, the actual date of St. Patrick's Day. But because the holiday falls on a Sunday this year, the parade was held on Saturday due to religious observances.

EXTRAS: Parade Guide | Fun Ways To Celebrate | 2013 Line Of March | Share Your Photos |

The line down Fifth Avenue was painted green, and people were ready to celebrate the Irish hours in advance – even if they are not Irish and even if Saturday is not St. Patrick's Day.

Last year's parade paid tribute to American veterans. This year, it was led by about 750 members of the New York State Army National Guard First Battalion 69th Infantry.

Meanwhile, St. Patrick's Cathedral celebrated a St. Patrick's mass Saturday morning without Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who was still in Rome following the election of the new Pope Francis. Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop emeritus, will preside.

Silverman caught up with Egan afterward.

"I just got back from Rome. I went over to say goodbye to the Holy Father and to take part in the early congregations. Then I decided when you get to be as old as I am, what you do is you come back home and take it easy. But I've come back home, and I think I have spoken to every television channel, and every radio station, and every newspaper in town," Egan said, "and nobody could ever beat WCBS."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly marched in the parade usual. But City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was not there.

Quinn, an Irish-American and a lesbian, will not march because, she said, the parade continues to bar marchers from displaying gay pride messages.

"I've marched in Dublin, with visibly identifiable stickers and buttons that made clear we were both Irish and LGBT," Quinn said. "If you can do that in Dublin then in god's name why can't you do that on Fifth Avenue?"

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is also running for mayor, decided not to participate in the parade for the same reason.

Organizers said the LGBT community is welcome, but that signs celebrating gay pride would detract from the parade's focus on honoring Irish heritage.

When asked about the perceived exclusion of LGBT groups, Cardinal Emeritus Egan declined to get into the issue.

"All my years here, I never got into politics at all, and that's why I think things might have gone well, you know?" he said.

This year's parade grand marshal was Alfred E. Smith IV, whose great-grandfather and namesake was a four-time governor of New York.

Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road provided extra trains for those traveling to and from the parade Saturday.


NJ TRANSIT also offered extra train service on the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast, Morris & Essex and Port Jervis lines. Extra bus service will also be available.

NJT also says alcoholic beverages will not be permitted on trains Saturday to and from New York or Hoboken.

For more information, visit the parade's official website.

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