Parade puts Irish spring in city's step


Dressed in dark morning-suit tuxedo jackets, charcoal striped pants, black top hats and patent leather shoes, Towson resident Fran Reinhardt and his 6-year-old son, Jack, watched the groups assembling for yesterday's 50th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade - the green, orange and white colors of their sashes declaring their Irishness.

Members of the Calvert Hall College High School marching band practiced a few bars of a tune, while an Irish dance troupe hopped up and down as their hair, in tight ringlets, uncoiled and bounced back with each move. Members of a Philadelphia-based mummers string band, adorned in shimmering, pastel-colored outfits, emerged from a different direction.

Reinhardt, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Towson, was waiting with his son in front of the Washington Monument, staging area for the 103 groups that walked the 1 1/2 -mile parade route on an afternoon that was perfect, Irish or not, to get out of the house, enjoy the nice weather, head downtown and get green.

Ann Coleman McDonnell, the parade's chairwoman, said the weather was a huge draw.

"It was the largest crowd I've ever seen," she said, describing crowded sidewalks from the beginning of the route near the monument to its end at Market Place.

Reinhardt said he brought his son to join in the parade with the Hibernians to instill a sense of heritage and build a fondness for the event.

"I like seeing all the groups combined with the expression of Irish heritage," Reinhardt said.

"I like to march," said Jack, a second-year participant, who added that the key to keeping his shiny shoes clean was not dragging them. "You have to keep walking."

Organizing the parade takes a year of preparation, said McDonnell's husband, Carbra McDonnell, the band committee chairman.

"It's continuous," he said, adding that his wife has recently been working 30 to 40 hours a week in preparation. "The end is pretty hectic."

While thousands of parade watchers took in the sights and sounds, the McDonnells worked near the staging area to ensure that the parade ran smoothly.

At one point, the scene bordered on frantic when a firetruck about to join in the parade was dispatched to a fire. Moments later, Carbra McDonnell's brother, Terry, informed him that members of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police had entered the procession out of turn riding their Segway scooters.

"I told them not to leave," Carbra McDonnell said as he walked briskly toward his brother, the parade's organizer chairman.

"They didn't go on my order," another organizer said of one of the few moments of disorganization that no one but they would have noticed.

Ann McDonnell said later that any kinks are worth the end result.

"So many people stopped me and thanked me," she said. "It's really a tremendous amount of work. But that makes you feel good; people really enjoy and appreciate it.

"We do it because we want to share Irish culture with everyone," she said. "This is the way to put our best foot forward."

Ramsey Prince of Baltimore met up with his friends at Mount Vernon Stable & Saloon just after 1 p.m., grabbed a few drinks and headed to the parade about 2:30 p.m.

"It's an excuse for everyone to drink," Prince said with a laugh as he stood with his three friends. The sounds of a marching band filled the air. "This band is fabulous," he said.

Brad McNaughton - one of Prince's friends who had never been to a St. Patrick's Day parade in Baltimore - was impressed with the festivities.

"I like the camaraderie," said McNaughton, a recent transplant from Pittsburgh, as he held a spicy Bloody Mary in a clear plastic cup. "It's like we're all here for a purpose. We're all together whether we're Irish or not. You don't have to be Irish to enjoy the St. Patrick's Day Parade."

Lisette Howe, a member of the Central Maryland Red Cross, waved to participants from the steps of a building near the beginning of the parade route as she eagerly waited for her turn to march with co-workers.

"I love all the colors and the different costumes," said the self-described Belgian-American. "I love the Irish. It's a strong country. We're all Irish today."

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