Baltimore St. Patrick's Day parade a festival of music, beads and green

Gov. Martin O'Malley waves to the crowd with his son Jack, center, and a friend at the St. Patrick's Day Parade on North Charles Street.
Gov. Martin O'Malley waves to the crowd with his son Jack, center, and a friend at the St. Patrick's Day Parade on North Charles Street.(Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Some 700 miles away from home, Center Stage intern Meghan O'Rourke still got to celebrate her Irish heritage in Baltimore.

She missed out on a family tradition Sunday — Chicago's South Side Irish Parade — but Baltimore's St. Patrick's Day Parade meant she didn't have to miss out on St. Paddy's festivities.

She and others lined up Sunday along Charles Street to take in dance troupes, marching bands, flag corps, bagpipe brigades, antique fire trucks and classic cars. Miss Maryland and Miss Teen Maryland USA waved to onlookers, and a group of dogs sporting green top hats passed by.

O'Rourke enjoyed seeing the dancers step their way down the parade route.

"I wanted to go in and join," said the former competitive Irish dancer.

Along the route — which ran from the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, down Charles Street and to the Inner Harbor — spectators sported green shirts, green hats, beads, stickers and other clover-leaf items. A few carried green plastic cups and beer bottles, but police spokesman Det. Jeremy Silbert said he was not aware of any arrests from the parade.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who waved to the crowd along with his son Jack, sported a green tie, while Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wore a green sweater, beads and a large green hat lined with green feathers.

Sunday's sunny weather perhaps enticed a few additional spectators out to the parade, the largest such event in Maryland. Many people shed jackets and sweaters in the afternoon sunlight as they sat on curbs and folding chairs.

As dancers from the Egan School of Irish Dance in Baltimore County strolled down Charles Street, crowds got louder, prompting them to dance. Instructor Becky Egan Hogg teaches 36 girls ranging from 5 to 14 years old. Before leaving the staging area, she said they planned to mostly do basic steps in the parade.

"It's a much bigger audience" than they are used to, she said.

But veteran parade dancer Bryn Persons, 9, was not daunted, saying she liked the bigger audience.

As the crowds erupted in cheers and the float in front of them paused, their feet became a blur and their purple skirts flew during the occasional twirl in unison.

Not far behind them, the drums and bagpipes of the John F. Nicoll Pipes and Drums band roared. The Scottish, military-style band sported the iconic plaid kilts, fitted jackets, waist belts with cartridge boxes, neatly shined shoes with spats, and horsehair sporrans — pouches that are a staple of pipe band uniforms. The full ensemble takes about an hour for the novice to don, but Pipe Major Kevin M. Brown said that after years of playing, he's gotten it down to only 40 minutes.

As Brown called out commands, the group quickly formed into neat lines with the pipes in the front, followed by the drummers and the color guard, which carried U.S., Maryland and Irish flags.

Cpl. Avery Bowen, the latest bagpiper to join, said he got interested in the band after watching his aunt, who was also a bagpiper in the group.

"My parents would always take us to these parades," he said.

As the parade wound down, city cleaning crews brought up the rear to pick up discarded cups, beads and other litter. Phoenix resident Alex Goldfaden said this had been the first year her family — including her husband and three children — had attended.

"We had such a good time. I think we are going to make this a tradition," she said.