All Irish, if only for a day

Parade: From O'Malley to `O'Schaefer,' thousands show their true colors (shades of green, of course) to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

March 17, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Call it the luck of the Irish.

After years of rain, winds and bitter cold for the annual spectacle of Irish pride, yesterday's St. Patrick's Day Parade danced along beneath a shimmering blue sky and a sun shining as brightly as a pot o' gold.

Many of the thousands of people who lined Charles Street for the 47th annual parade were Irish, and some who weren't had no trouble pretending.

"It's O'Schaefer," said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, from the passenger seat of a chocolate-brown Corvette carrying him along the downtown route. "I'm one of those German Irishmen."

Schaefer, the parade's honorary chairman, joined a cadre of public officials including Baltimore's top Irishman, Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"This is one of the larger crowds I've seen in a long time at a parade," said Schaefer, the former governor and mayor, marveling at the crush of people waving to him.

Never one to shy away from public attention, Schaefer waved back heartily and bellowed, "Helllooo!"

From Mount Vernon to the Inner Harbor, people were drinking Irish stout and donning bright green, from hairlines to hemline.

There were green hats, bow ties, blazers, shoes, sweaters and even a T-shirt that read: "I'm neurotic."

The parade featured more than 25 marching bands, as well as elaborate floats, gussied-up folk dancers and antique cars.

Norah Ward, 12, who wore shamrock stickers next to her eyebrows, spray-painted her yellow lab, Yeller, green for the occasion, although she didn't change his name.

The parade is an important day in the Ward house because, well, there's a chance there would be no Ward household if it weren't for the parade.

Joan Morrissey-Ward and Hugh Ward of Bel Air met 17 years ago as they watched the parade from the Inner Harbor. Hugh, who was dating a woman in the parade at the time, noticed his future wife's green eyes and Irish spirit.

"She had a shamrock on her cheek like she does today, and I said, `I've got to meet this girl,'" said Ward, 42. So he went over and asked: "Are you Irish?"

She said yes, and they went on a date the next weekend.

"I thought he must be a good man if he came to the Irish parade," said Morrissey-Ward, 45, who recently won a seat on the Bel Air town commission.

While many in the crowd seemed to have attended as an excuse to drink beer in the afternoon, it was not hard to find people like the Wards, who hold the day special for one reason or another.

There was a trio of friends from Towson who are sure they've been attending since the parade's inception.

Mary Panuska, 86, Dot Lassen, 82, and Catherine Harrison, who wouldn't divulge her age, slip on their kelly green clothing each year and celebrate their heritage.

It's their favorite parade.

"We've been coming since it started," Panuska said.

This year, Harrison said she gave Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a thumbs-up when he walked by with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, and also offered "a thumbs-up for slots."

The Irish ladies don't drink beer at the parade like some of the younger set. They save themselves for their nightly Manhattans, a whiskey drink with sweet vermouth.

"I hope it doesn't go too late," Harrison said. "We have to go home for our Manhattans."

Not more than a block from the trio stood Matt Doud, 35, who attended the parade with his father and son. Doud, who was wearing shorts and a green sweater, calls himself "very Irish."

Doud said he thinks so many people showed up yesterday because they are tired of being home.

"With all the lousy news and lousy weather, they are looking for something to celebrate," he said.

And he added: "Where else do you get to see so many men in skirts?"

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