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Erin go brrrrragh, surely, but Irish hearts warm as ever

Winter seemed to want to stick around for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Buffalo on Sunday afternoon.

With temperatures in the 30s and wind gusts adding to the chill, spring felt more than just a few days away.

But after a harsh, historic winter better suited for hibernation, Buffalonians were ready to burst outdoors for a party, even if they had to bundle up for it.

The crowd packing Delaware Avenue from Niagara Square to North Street didn’t disappoint. Spectators pulled out anything green they could find – hats, necklaces, sunglasses, tutus, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes – and were often as entertaining as what passed on the route. And for every T-shirt boasting Irish pride in a family friendly way, there were other shirts bearing messages that St. Patrick would surely frown upon.

Just as the parade began moving, the traffic signal at West Huron Street switched to green. Among the first to pass by was the Blackthorn Club, visible in their top hats and long, black coats. And for the 50th year, brothers Patrick and Jim O’Dea, and their cousin, Tim Moeller, were up front, helping to carry the club’s banner. They began the tradition as kids; starting next year, they will let others take their place with the banner. “We have marched in every conceivable type of weather there is,” Jim O’Dea said. The trio rated this year’s weather as average, and said the years of extreme temperatures – hot or cold – were the toughest duty. “We hope to do many more parades, but we won’t be carrying the banner,” Moeller said.

Just ahead of the Blackthorns was Denice Morrison, chosen grand marshal by the United Irish American Association of Erie County. She called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” honor, and the experience appeared to insulate her from the cold.

“Now that we’re out here, it’s a lot warmer than I thought it was going to be,” she said.

Police had warned of a crackdown on public intoxication and the open-container law, but plenty of spectators were carrying beer cars. About a half hour into the parade, a man sitting outside WGRZ-TV’s building had filled a giant, clear trash bag with empty cans, and he was fishing more of them out of garbage cans using a wire as a hook. Some spectators tried to cloak their beverages as they drank; others were unabashed about displaying their brand of choice.

Some parade-watchers had difficulty walking steadily along the sidewalk, even with all the ice melted away.

Police officers kept watch over the crowd, shooing overly enthusiastic spectators off the route to make way for marchers. Still, a couple of green-clad guys darted out for a selfie with a beauty queen, who obliged with an ever-present smile.

As floats of dancers rolled past, some parade watchers tried – and failed – to copy the dancers’ steps on the sidelines. At some points along the route – West Chippewa Street, for example – the crowd was thick and had the raucous feel and sound of a Bills tailgate party.

Standing quietly amid the revelry was Samantha Roman, of Lockport, and her two children, Alex, 6, and Jamiel, 2. Roman was attending the parade for the first time, at her brother’s suggestion.

“It’s awesome,” Roman said. “It’s like, all these people. And I’ve seen people I’ve gone to school with.”

Farther up Delaware, Scott Holmes, a native of England, and his wife, Mari Balch, took in the scene with their daughter Lily, 4½.

“It feels like the beginning of spring,” Holmes said. “It’s a good atmosphere, great crowd, an annual tradition.”

To Balch, “there’s no better place to spend St. Paddy’s Day than Buffalo, because there’s a good spirit, it’s lighthearted. Everyone’s smiling. It’s a vibe. It brings all of Buffalo together.”

The parade had familiar touches, like the wailing sirens of fire trucks, bagpipers, marching bands, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer shouting through a bullhorn.

“Let’s hear it for Buffalo!” he called out, pumping his fist.

Some at the parade took green to the extreme. Bryan McLaughlin, of Lancaster, sported a green beard as he rolled by in the float of Local 41, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He reflected on being a participant rather than a spectator.

“When I was a kid, I watched parades,” he said. “It was always fun. You laugh, you smile, it’s all great, you get to watch everything go by. If you’re in something, you don’t get to watch everything go by. But you get to watch everybody watching the parade go by.”

Amid the sea of green was a pink automobile transport from Cassens Transport, painted that color to raise cancer awareness through Kevin Trinkle of Teamsters Local 449, who works at Cassens, said the St. Patrick’s Day parade holds a special place on the calendar. “I think it’s one of the largest in the nation. It’s exposure for everyone here, and to be part of our city’s camaraderie, our heritage.”

One of the spectators, Tim Hartnett, said he liked the sense of community he finds at the parade. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, everybody in Western New York comes down to be a little bit of Irish for a day. That’s a great thing. For a small like city like us to do that, it makes everything feel like it’s more close. It’s cool.”

As the parade’s final units moved up Delaware, two street-sweeping machines followed close behind. They were hugging the curb, with plenty of work ahead of them. Another St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in the books.