NEW YORK — St. Patrick's Day festivities were in full swing Sunday with the usual merriment of bagpipes and beer, but political tensions lingered in the northeastern United States, where city leaders will be conspicuously absent from parades over gay rights issues.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will become the first mayor in decades to sit out the traditional march today because parade organizers refuse to let participants carry pro-gay signs. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh wasn't marching in his city's parade Sunday, either, after talks broke down that would have allowed a gay group to march.
Still, thousands of green-clad spectators came out for the parade in Boston to watch bagpipers, and organizers of a float intended to promote diversity threw Mardi Gras-type beads at onlookers. A similar scene played out in downtown Philadelphia.
In Georgia, the dome of Savannah's City Hall was lit green, and in Detroit and Bay City, Mich., several thousand people faced temperatures in the teens to march with pipe and drum bands.
In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day provides the launch of the country's annual push for tourism, a big part of the rural economy.
"To Irish people by birth or descent, wherever they may be in the world, and to those who simply consider themselves to be friends of Ireland, I wish each and every one of you a happy, peaceful and authentically Irish St. Patrick's Day," Irish President Michael Higgins, the ceremonial head of state and guest of honor at today's parade in Dublin, said in a statement.
Ireland's government leader, Enda Kenny, became the first Irish prime minister to attend Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast on Sunday.
But Kenny has resisted pressure, in Ireland and America, to support demands for gays to have equal rights to parade on St. Patrick's Day, and he planned to march today in New York.
"The St. Patrick's Day parade (in New York) is a parade about our Irishness and not about sexuality, and I would be happy to participate in it," he said in Dublin before leaving for a six-day trip to the United States.
Parade organizers have said gay groups are not prohibited from marching, but are not allowed to carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Some LGBT groups planned to protest the parade along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue today. Others had planned to dump Guinness beer from the shelves of the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, in protest of the brewer's plan to sponsor the parade, but that demonstration was canceled late Sunday after Guinness said in a statement that it had dropped its sponsorship.
Other beer companies joined the boycotts earlier, with Samuel Adams withdrawing its sponsorship of Boston's parade and Heineken following suit in New York.
New York's parade, a tradition that predates the city itself, draws more than 1 million spectators and about 200,000 participants every March 17. It has long been a mandatory stop on the city's political trail, and will include marching bands, traditional Irish dancers and thousands of uniformed city workers.