Irish Eyes all smiles on city's St. Pat's parade

The weather cooperated. People came out in droves, dressed head-to-toe in green. The revelry was fun but not excessive. The performers -- and at least one Olympian -- got rousing cheers from delighted crowds.

By all accounts, it was, in short, a near perfect St. Patrick's Day Parade Saturday in Downtown, one of the nation's oldest and largest.

Even an issue that has caused controversy at other large St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City and Boston this year -- the exclusion of gay groups from those parades -- was a non-issue.

"Our policy has always been that nobody is excluded because of race, sex or sexual orientation," said parade Chairman Pat O'Brien. "This has never been an issue, and shouldn't be an issue."

For families like the Quinns of Bellevue, who arrived three hours before the 10 a.m. start time to secure their favored spot at the corner of Stanwix Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, perfect meant the steady buildup of family and friends to the spot they've come to for more than 20 years.

"This is why we do this," family matriarch Donna Quinn said as she hugged yet another family member who arrived, beer in hand.

The Pittsburgh Police Emerald Society Pipe and Drums marched by with bagpipes in full shout, as Mrs. Quinn showed off her green, "It's a Blessing to be Irish" sweatshirt that was accessorized with a green clover scarf, clover earrings, clover necklaces and clover stickers on her cheeks.

For kids like Erin Murphy, 8, of Moon, who marched and danced in the parade as part of the Bell School of Irish Dance, perfect meant hearing the cheering crowds that were four and five deep along the boulevard. "It was cool," she said.

But it was also perfect to be able to deal with the windy chill. "I got warm because I was dancing a lot," said the third-grader.

For John Thompson, 62, of the South Side, perfect meant finding a couple customers in the cheering throngs willing to buy his artwork -- either watercolors of pastoral scenes or self-portrait photos of him dressed as famed wrestler Hulk Hogan.

"They call me the Black Hulk Hogan," he said, dressed in kelly green sweats.

Mr. Thompson said no, of course he is not Irish, but "today I feel Irish. And it's a beautiful day."

The three-hour-long parade, which featured 190 different participants -- 23,000 people in all and perhaps 100 different horses, dogs and goats -- also featured Rochester native Lauryn Williams.

The presence of Ms. Williams, who recently became the fifth person ever to win an Olympic medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics when she took the silver in the two-woman bobsled event in Sochi, was a highlight for many. Chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" followed her throughout the city.

She said she wanted to be in the parade -- her first time -- to thank the region.

"They've supported me and I think I've made the area proud," Ms. Williams said after completing the parade through Downtown.

Few found the day more perfect than Kevin Larkin, 51, who marched with the corrections officer union dressed as a leprechaun while riding a unicycle, just as he has for a decade.

"It's the greatest day in the world to be dressed as a leprechaun," the first-generation Irish-American said. "And it's just a great day to be Irish -- though every day is, really."

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579.

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