Thousands of revelers and marchers descended on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue for the 256th New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade Friday, turning the iconic street into a sea of festive green.
Revelers braved the crisp morning winds to watch acclaimed Irish violinist Greg Harrington begin the procession with a serene rendition of "The Parting Glass," a popular Scottish parting tune sung in Ireland. Little girls with green shamrocks painted on their cheeks excitedly bounced behind the barricade, waiting for marching bands to stroll by.
Dressed in traditional olive green camouflage, the 69th regiment of New York led the parade for the 165th time, waving American flags as company bag piper Joe Brady played and marched alongside soldiers. The "Fighting 69th" infantry was originally organized as a militia unit for Irish immigrants in New York.
The company marched ahead of the Valley Forge Military Academy and College Regimental Band. Wrapped in cadet grey jackets, snare drummers played in harmony with bass saxophonists. Not even the breeze could make the red tassles sway atop their black and gold hats as they marched up Fifth Avenue.
The Grand Marshall aides were all smiles in chic black suits and black top hats. They lined the street, delicately holding the Irish flag satin sash draped over their right shoulders as the crowd clapped and cheered.
For Grand Marshall Michael Dowling, the celebrations gave him an appreciation for the life he created in the United States from the hardships he endured during his childhood in a rogue Irish farming village.
"Just proves that's what the United States is all about," he said, grinning ear to ear. "No matter how you began, the United States gives opportunities that exist no other place in the world. To be in New York, to be in the United States, to be Irish on a beautiful day like this on St. Patrick's Day -- what could be better?"
Two FDNY officers led a wave of members down Fifth Avenue with a banner of Yadira Arroyo, complete with a poised photo of the late EMT who was killed Thursday after she was brutally run over by a man who hijacked the ambulance she was riding in.
Mayor de Blasio said the celebration honors not just the contributions of the Irish in New York, but throughout the country.
"It's a moment to reflect on," he told News 4. "We would not be New York City if it weren't for what the Irish-Americans have done for us."
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill fully embraced his Irish heritage during his first march as commissioner in the parade. He thanked the men and women on the force for their daily hard work and said he was "so proud" to serve as commissioner.
NYPD officers dresed in their signature navy blue uniforms steadied golden flag poles against their shoulders as they regally marched to rounds of applause from the crowd. Four flags -- American, Irish, New York State and NYPD -- whipped against the wind.
This year's parade is dedicated to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and to the New York State Police. Both organizations turn 100 years old this year.
Gov. Cuomo announced police will be cracking down on drunken driving as well as underage drinking at the parade. The law enforcement campaign will include sobriety checkpoints, and ID inspections at bars.
Alcohol is banned from Metro-North and LIRR trains. MTA police will enforce the ban on Friday through 5 a.m. Saturday, the agency said. MTA service changes are also in effect.
There's been a scramble to clear streets this week after a nor'easter dumped rain and snow on the tri-state area, which froze over as temperatures lingered below freezing for days. The Department of Sanitation was moving glacial snow mounds from Fifth Avenue and other parts of midtown on Thursday.