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St. Patrick’s Day marchers remember the Great Potato Famine with silence

March 18, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Pipes and drums fell silent for one somber minute Monday as St. Patrick’s Day marchers honored the memory of 1.5 million Irish who died in the Great Potato Famine 150 years ago.

Echoes of protest also hung over the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade for the seventh year in a row as three dozen demonstrators from the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization were arrested while protesting their exclusion from the march.

The 236th annual celebration for Ireland’s patron saint was otherwise a spectacle of bands, kilted bagpipers, military marching units and joyous spectators. Organizers estimated that 150,000 people marched and a million or more watched.

Other U.S. cities that marked the day with parades include Cleveland, Kansas City, Mo., and Savannah, Ga., which turns every shade of green for the occasion: green beer, green grits, green milkshakes and green newsprint.

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

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.

Hours before marching in New York’s parade, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani presided over the wedding of a London couple, Davina Ismail-Massey and Tyrone Giblin. The mayor stepped in because the bride, who wanted to be married in New York to honor her Irish father, was having trouble making arrangements.

Later, 8-year-old Joseph Bassafiume of Montville, N.J., watched the parade from the shoulders of his father, Mario, who said his son has ``a drop″ of Irish heritage. ``The soldiers are my favorite,″ said Joseph.

``I love the whole thing,″ said Terence Sheehan, 20, costumed as a leprechaun and posing with tourists. ``But the bagpipes and the drums, that’s really awesome.″

The moment of silence came at noon, as the New York Shield-Pipe Drum Corps drew abreast of the reviewing stand.

``It took us back 150 years to that awful time in Ireland when one and a half million people died of starvation unnecessarily,″ parade chairman John Dunleavy said.

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

Earlier, at a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal John O’Connor said that to ignore ``Black ’47,″ the most severe year of the famine, ``is to be condemned to relive it in one way or another.″

O’Connor also praised former parade chairman Frank Bierne, who died late last year.

Bierne led the successful court fight by the parade’s organizer, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, to bar the gay group on the grounds that the parade is a private religious observance and that homosexuality conflicts with teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Before Monday’s parade, supporters of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization sat in the middle of Fifth Avenue and blocked traffic for 90 minutes until police arrested them.

``Homophobia is the religion of cowards,″ read one placard carried by the demonstrators.

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