NEW YORK - Crowds cheered and bagpipes bellowed during New York City's annual St. Patrick's Day parade Saturday, and people with a fondness for anything Irish began a weekend of festivities from the Louisiana bayou to Dublin.
With the holiday itself falling on a Sunday, many celebrations were scheduled instead for Saturday because of religious observances.
In New York, the massive parade, which predates the United States, was led by 750 members of the New York Army National Guard. The 1st Battalion of the 69th Infantry has been marching in the parade since 1851.
Michael Bloomberg took in his last St. Patrick's Day parade as mayor, waving to a boisterous crowd as snowflakes fell on Fifth Avenue. Marching just behind him was Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who presented Bloomberg with a historic Irish teapot earlier.
"The Irish are found in every borough, every corner of New York," Kenny said at a holiday breakfast. "In previous generations they came heartbroken and hungry, in search of new life, new hope; today they come in search of opportunity to work in finance, fashion, film."
Hundreds of thousands lined the parade route in New York, cheering the marching bands, dance troupes and politicians.
"We're crazy, the Irish, we're funny and we talk to everyone," said 23-year-old Lauren Dawson, of Paramus, N.J., who came to her first St. Patrick's Day parade.
In downtown Chicago, thousands along the Chicago River cheered as workers on a boat dumped dye into the water, turning it a bright fluorescent green for at least a few hours in an eye-catching local custom.
In a sea of people in green shirts, coats, hats, sunglasses and even wigs and beards, 29-year-old Ben May managed to stand out. The Elkhart, Ind., man wore a full leprechaun costume, complete with a tall green hat he had to hold onto in the wind.
"I've got a little Irish in me, so I'm supporting the cause," he said.
May bought the outfit online to wear to Notre Dame football games. But he figured it was fitting for this occasion, too.
"I probably will get to drink for free," he said, after posing for a photograph with a group of women.
"That's what I'm hoping," said his girlfriend, Angela Gibson.
Kenny, who visited Chicago for St. Patrick's Day last year, was again making the holiday a jumping-off point for an extended trip to the U.S., with stops in Washington and on the West Coast over the ensuing several days.
He and President Barack Obama were to meet Tuesday at the White House and Kenny was to give Obama shamrocks, a tradition that dates to Harry S. Truman's administration. Obama also was slated to meet the Protestant and Catholic leaders of Northern Ireland's cross-community government, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
Thousands of revelers gaudily garbed in green crammed the oak-shaded squares and sidewalks of downtown Savannah, Ga., on Saturday, for a celebration that's a 189-year-old tradition.
Led by bagpipers in green kilts, a parade kicked off Saturday morning, hours after customers began lining up at downtown bars. More than 1,000 worshippers also packed the pews of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist for the Mass that traditionally precedes the parade.
But the Savannah parade went on without Ireland's No. 2 politician, Eamon Gilmore, who skipped the trip to avoid a dinner where only men are allowed.
Gilmore, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, told the Irish Times a visit to Georgia's oldest city would have come with the expectation he attend the annual dinner of the Hibernian Society of Savannah, a private event open only to men. The group's leader said Saturday that Gilmore wasn't formally invited but that he would have been welcome.
"Count me out -- I'm not doing it," Gilmore told the Irish newspaper. "I don't believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis."
In Ireland, Dublin's five-day St. Patrick's Day festival was unfolding with a new addition. For the first time, up to 8,000 visitors from around the world were due to march in a so-called people's parade Sunday, when Ireland's capital city also intends hold its usual procession of bands and pageantry.
In Maine, St. Patrick's Day prompted Gov. Paul LePage to relent on a vow to veto any bill that reached his desk before lawmakers pass his proposal to pay a state debt to hospitals. He signed a measure Friday allowing bars to serve alcohol a few hours earlier than usual, starting at 6 a.m., on the Sunday holiday.
About 1,500 miles southwest, the city of Houma, La., was holding its unconventional celebration -- an Irish-Italian parade, with a celebration that features both Irish cabbage and Italian sausage -- on Sunday. The event resumed last year after a 10-year hiatus.
In Rolla, Mo., the Missouri University of Science and Technology continued a St. Patrick's tradition that began in 1908, when students declared that the patron saint of Ireland also was the patron saint of engineers. A slate of events included a student
portraying St. Patrick being transported downtown on a manure spreader.
Annapolis, Md., held its first St. Patrick's Day parade March 10. A 40-year-old parade tradition took on a sense of renewal March 3 in Belmar, N.J., a shore town that took a heavy blow from Superstorm Sandy.
But along with the festivities, in some places, came warnings from police that they would be on the lookout for drunken drivers and other misbehavior. Police in Baltimore and Washington both planned to increase patrols.