NEW YORK – A weekend of St. Patrick’s Day revelry and tensions over the exclusion of gays in some of the celebrations culminated Monday in New York, where the world’s largest parade celebrating Irish heritage stepped off without the city’s new mayor and Guinness beer amid a dispute over whether participants can carry pro-gay signs.
The parade of kilted Irish-Americans and bagpipers set off on a cold, gray morning. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined Fifth Avenue, but the shivering, bundled-up crowd was only about half as thick as in previous years.
Revelers also gathered elsewhere for green-themed celebrations, including some 400,000 locals and tourists in Dublin, where gay rights groups took part in the festivities.
De Blasio held New York’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion with the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, but boycotted the parade because organizers said marchers were not allowed to carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Weeks ago de Blasio said he would skip the parade over the issue, but Guinness abruptly dropped its support a day before the event. The Dublin-based company pulled sponsorship assets, including on-air presence, parade participation and any promotional materials that weren’t already printed, although the beer maker had already made a payment to parade organizers, spokeswoman Alix Dunn said.
Other beer companies took part in the boycotts, with Samuel Adams withdrawing its sponsorship of Boston’s parade and Heineken also bagging New York’s parade because of the exclusion of gays.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who greeted passing dignitaries in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral wearing a woolen Irish cap over his red cardinal’s skull cap, said he supports the participation of individual gays and hoped St. Patrick’s Day could be a day of unity and joy.
“I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade,” he said. “I know it. And I’m glad they are.”
About two dozen gay rights advocates protested the parade holding placards high enough for marchers to see.