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Downtown Buffalo struts its Paddy pride amid sea of green

Downtown Buffalo was transformed into a true hooley Sunday afternoon.

Thousands lined stately Delaware Avenue, showing their Irish finest in the city's 77th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, one of the longest-running parades in the country. A vast oasis of all shades of green marked the occasion, from City Hall to Allentown.

[Gallery: The 2017 St. Patrick's Day Parade]

Bagpipers in plaid Irish kilts marched up the street, Irish dancers bobbed, their curly wigs whipping to and fro, and even dogs donned Irish garb. The city's deep Irish roots and heritage dazzled during the annual spectacle, which never seems to disappoint – despite the nippy, gray 40-degree day that felt a bit colder than it was.

Spirits soared whether you were part of the event or watching it. Irish folk tunes and bagpipes could be heard far from the parade route, and unless you looked at a calendar, no one would have guessed it was two days past the real St. Patrick's Day.

"I like tradition. We do this every year, whether it's cold or warm," said Kimberly Degnan, a self-described parade regular. "I've been doing it every year of my life."

The Rince Na Tiarna Dancers march in the St. Patrick's Day parade on Delaware Avenue, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Degnan, a transplant nurse at Erie County Medical Center, more than dressed the part. With shamrock-print leggings, a green scarf made by her mother, a sequined green top hat barrette pinned in her hair and shamrock gloves to warm her hands, Degnan was all decked out – even down to her green underwear. "Everything matches, down to my socks," she said, admitting she is half Irish and half Italian.

Her friend, Mike Pacitto, came unprepared but quickly got into the action – buying a tall Dr. Seuss hat and green glasses at the parade and putting beads around his neck. "It's fun just being down here with everyone and enjoying St. Patrick's Day," he said.

The parade capped off a festive weekend of full-blown Irish partying that saw the city's taverns overflowing and marked the climax of the second epic weekend of St. Patrick's Day celebrating, Irish style, in the Queen City. The Old Neighborhood Parade in the Old First Ward started it off last weekend, which was frigid, but Buffalo's die-hard Irish thrived on the parade aura.

"We started partying last weekend," said Philip Russell of Wilson, just before he stepped off in the parade with the Lockport Ancient Order of Hibernians. Russell wore an ivory-colored Irish knit sweater, green kilt from Dublin and clutched his grandfather's cane.

Irish setters and their owners march in the St. Patrick's Day parade. (Karen Robinson.Buffalo News)

A short distance away, Ellen Bieler was ready to go with her two Irish setters, Dewars and Johnnie Walker Blue, as part of the Irish Setter Club of Western New York. With a shamrock affixed to her left cheek, a green hat, scarf and green glasses, Bieler sipped a mudslide over ice in her green plastic cup. "It's the people and the camaraderie in who we are and what we are in this city," said Bieler, a 30-year marching veteran from East Amherst.

In fact, the parade was such a magnet – with thousands lining both sides of the 1.2-mile parade route between Niagara Square and North Street – that police say they could not estimate the size of the crowd.

"Crowded – how about that?" one officer said as he and other officers coaxed paradewatchers to step back onto the sidewalk instead of spilling into the street, not far from bagpipers and Irish dancers going past. The gathering at the corner of Delaware and Chippewa was more compact than elbow-to-elbow, with many spectators unable to move outside Spot Coffee. When they weren't watching the parade, they were busy taking selfies.

"It's the Irish pride," said Pat McGuinness, 57, looking dapper in his overcoat and top hat, with his United Irish-American Association sash, just before stepping off in the parade. "It's just a great day to be Irish," he said, admitting with a twinkle in his right eye that he had celebrated "just a wee bit."

About 150 units marched in the parade, which – in addition to Irish Setters – drew huskies, corgis and dachshunds.

Triston Batcho of Gowanda, 5, is a leprechaun for the St. Patrick's Day parade on Delaware Avenue, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Ariana Harrison and Manuel Woerner moved to Buffalo two years ago – she from New York City and he from just outside Munich, Germany. They can't get enough of the parade. So much so that Harrison brought Pipa, her 1-year-old Cavapoo, to watch in her shamrock scarf. "We like to see the dogs and the girls dancing," she said.

"I like the hustle and bustle, and the bagpipes," added Woerner, her boyfriend.

As they watched the parade, Rince na Tiarna Irish dancers went by, their intricate dance steps dazzling onlookers.

Standing a bit down the street was Norman Wein of Alden, who could not be missed with his green wig, sunglasses to match, strands of beads and green Mountain Dew T-shirt. "It's a family thing. Tradition," he said of the parade, standing beside his 17-year-old daughter, Christina, who wore green lipstick and eyeshadow, with his 15-month-old son, Jacob, in a stroller.

Street vendor Jay Becky, who pushed his cart of Irish items as the parade wound down, said it was his first St. Patrick's Day parade in Buffalo. He called it a success, estimating he sold close to $1,000 worth of merchandise, from flags, to green monkeys, all kinds of hats, ear horns and trumpets.

The parade lasted slightly more than an hour, and led to Manhattan-style gridlock on surrounding streets – many still barricaded well after the parade ended. Many paradegoers found their way to bars and taverns, and filled up the sidewalks, particularly in Allentown.

Buffalo Police Central District officers reported that about 10 people were arrested following the parade, most on disorderly conduct charges. Most arrests occurred after the parade ended.

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