Much of downtown Washington turned Kelly green yesterday as 50,000 spectators dressed in everything from green windbreakers to green socks watched Ireland's progeny march in the District's St. Patrick's Day parade.
Under cloudless skies and temperatures reaching 62 degrees, onlookers lined Constitution Avenue between Seventh and 17th Streets NW to see 138 parade units including the Emerald Society of the D.C. Fire Department, Irish dancers, Irish wolfhounds, military honor guards, some local politicans and several high school marching bands.
"We come every year," said green-garbed Roger Myers of Cleveland Park, who was seated on a curb with his wife and two small children. "This one is . . . a celebration and it is sponsored by the Irish community. It's for families."
The parade had a sprinkling of politics, local and Irish. The Sons of Erin, proclaiming itself the city's first Irish society, carried banners supporting the retention of Rhodes Tavern, which developer Oliver T. Carr has won permission to tear down or move to another site.
Parade organizer Matthew J. Hannon explained that James Hoban, the architect of the White House and a native of Ireland, had lived in the tavern.
Another group carried a poster of Bobby Sands, an Irish hunger striker who died protesting the British presence in Northern Ireland, as well as banners for Irish prisoners of wars and an "England get out of Ireland" banner.
But the Washington parade was not marred by the kind of politics that has made this Thursday's march in New York City so controversial.
There, some prominent New York politicians are boycotting the parade because the grand marshal is Michael Flannery, a supporter of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. Flannery, 81, was recently acquitted of a charge of conspiracy to smuggle weapons.
Rear Adm. Frances T. Shea, the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. Navy, served as the Washington grand marshal, the first woman to serve in that capacity. "We pride ourselves on being non-sexist," said Hannon.
The crowd was filled with many whose support made the parade, now 12 years old, an annual event, while others were first-timers.
"We're Irish and we come in every year," said Ann Farrell, 12, of Brentwood, Md., wearing a green and white tam and a button saying "Irish Power." "It's just an inner feeling."
Her twin brother Andrew chimed in, "It's just loyalty. If you're Irish you want to participate."
Antoinette Mestriner, of the Spring Valley section of Washington, is Dutch but she and her husband have an Irish setter named Rufus and longed to see a parade.
"We love parades and we have missed them for a few years," said Mestriner, who recently moved to Washington from Malaysia with her husband.
Debbie Fernandez of Newport News, Va., said she was from a long line of Flanagans and was attending her first St. Patrick's Day parade at her mother's invitation. She had dressed her 9-month-old daughter, Amy, in a green playsuit, green jacket and adorned it with a button that said, "Kiss me, I'm Irish."