"It's a great occasion, a lot of color, a lot of flags and lot of music. I come every year," said Keady, now of Towson, with daughter Carolyn waving the Irish flag above his head. Keady pronounced Baltimore's parade as "one of the best I've ever seen" — and he's seen them in Dublin, he said.
"I think it's more crowded," said his wife, Libby Geraghty Keady, attributing that to "the best weather we've had since (Carolyn) was born.`"
Clad in all things green — hats, feather boas, sweaters and lucky four-leaf clovers handing from beads — people stood five and six deep, and sat on folding chairs, coolers and the curb along the route that followed Charles Street to the Inner Harbor. The Mulberry Street intersection was awash in green balloons overhead, and even therapy animals with Pets on Wheels, all dogs except for one tortoise, had little green hats and tutus.
"This is one of my favorite parades," said Bill Razzano, who heads the Greater Overbrook String Band of Delaware County, Pa. "It really gives you the atmosphere of New Year's Day — they're lined up to the storefronts."
The festivities were a celebration of Irish heritage for some, and just a celebration for others.
"I'm not Irish. I just drink Guinness," said Ken Akers, a party planner from Waverly.
"I pet that one," said 6-year-old Monil Shrestha, of Towson, pointing to one of the large dogs in the Potomac Valley Irish Wolfhound Club's group that stopped frequently for children to touch. The fur, Monil said, "felt a little bit softish" and was the highlight of the parade for him.
Nearby, the great-grandchildren of Lillian Venrick of Glen Burnie jumped off the curb to dance in the street, inspired by the Egan School of Irish Dance, whose students stepped to traditional music and applause. Soon after, the children had candy in their hands and green beads around their necks, courtesy of students of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic schools, who walked in the parade.
Gov. Martin O'Malley didn't participate in the parade this year, opting instead to watch it from the reviewing stand. Other officials either watching or participating included Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council members.
Baltimore police Detective Jeremy Silbert said he heard of no parade-related incidents reported to police. The city's Department of Transportation closed sections of Market Place and Charles, Centre and Pratt streets during the parade and the Shamrock 5k run that preceded it, and also restricted parking along those routes.
The parade, in its 58th year, cost about $85,000 to produce, an amount raised through donations, according to Arthur Casserly, a retired banker and parade chairman. The parade is always held the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day. Casserly said staging the event is "like a full-time job," noting that plans for lining up more than 100 participating bands, schools, floats, organizations and officials start a year in advance.
On parade day, lining up takes a few hours. Two hours before the parade began, the staging area that encircled the Washington Monument was a symphony of musicians performing final rehearsals on everything from bagpipes to bassoons — punctuated by barks from canine parade participants against the swish of cheerleaders' pompoms and chatter among marching groups.
Bernie McGinn of Lutherville is no stranger to the parade, but he was watching it for the first time.
"This is the first time in about 50 years that I'm not in marching in the parade," he said, as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the charitable organization he's marched with in the past, came by. This year, he came with a group of 20 relatives, neighbors, friends and their friends.
"I wanted to see the parade," he said, "and I wanted to be with my grandchildren."