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Paraders remember ‘Great Hunger’ with silence

March 18, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ The lilt of Irish music suddenly stopped. The pipes and drums went silent. The cheering ceased.

The mood became abruptly solemn as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade halted and marchers and spectators paused in memory of 1.5 million Irish who died in the ``Great Hunger″ 150 years ago.

``They were absolutely silent. You could hear a pin drop,″ said New York parade grand marshal John Lahey.

It was the potato famine, from 1845 to 1850, that touched off the great wave of Irish immigration to the United States.

That heritage was evident Monday not only in New York, where the 236th annual parade attracted 150,000 marchers and a million or more spectators. People from Cleveland to Savannah, Ga., turned every shade of green for the occasion: green beer, green grits, green milkshakes and green newsprint.

New York’s festival was marred by a street brawl near the route that put an 18-year-old man in the hospital with internal bleeding in the skull. In a separate incident, three dozen demonstrators from the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, again barred from marching, were arrested for blocking traffic.

Boston had its parade Sunday. On Monday, subway riders received copies of poems by Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats.

St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday for one last time in Briarwood Beach, a village of 700 whose merger means it won’t remain the only Ohio town to designate March 17 a legal holiday. Not that there ever was a parade.

``I thought it would have been appropriate to have a corned beef and cabbage dinner, with Irish music and dancing,″ said Councilman George Rivers. `` But we don’t have a hall or anything in the village.″

In suburban Blue Springs, a few miles east of Kansas City, Grand Marshal Dody Liddle led four marchers some 66 feet across a street for what’s billed as the shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in America.

``As you can see, I called out all the troops,″ said Police Chief H. L. Brown, pointing to two officers working traffic and crowd control.

In New York, the celebration for Ireland’s patron saint otherwise was a spectacle of bands, kilted bagpipers, military marching units and smiling spectators.

Tourists pressed to have their pictures taken with Terence Sheehan, 20, dressed as Lucky Leprechaun. ``I love the whole thing,″ Sheehan said. ``But the bagpipes and the drums, that’s really awesome.″

Kally Harris, 4, of Yorktown Heights, had no trouble picking her favorite part: ``I like the Irish dancers.″

And Davina Ismail-Massey and Tyrone Giblin celebrated in the parade after receiving a wedding present from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He married the London couple on the porch of Gracie Mansion.

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