Irish smiles and sunshine beamed across downtown Baltimore yesterday.
A crowd estimated by police at 50,000 (all of them Irish, of course) gathered along Charles Street for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, swaying to the rousing melodies of bagpipe bands, waving at men marching in tartan kilts and cheering for young girls kicking up their heels in kelly green dresses.
"This is even more spectacular than the parades in Ireland," said Sue Fortner, who spent two years on the Emerald Isle with her husband. "But it reminds me of just how warm and fun-loving the people are over there."
"I was born in Baltimore, and this is certainly a nice way to come home," said Elliott Woodaman, a bagpipe player with the Washington Scottish Pipe Band, before he began the trek down Charles Street from the Washington Monument to Pratt Street and east to Market Place.
A gray-haired man with sky-blue eyes, Mr. Woodaman said he has played the pipes since he was 12. "Once you start -- whether you're Irish or not -- you get hooked," he said.
Yesterday's parade began just after 2 p.m. and included marchingbands from several city high schools and a Mummers string band from Philadelphia whose members were dressed in elaborate costumes adorned with sequins, fur and feathers.
Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians wore formal tuxedos black -- complete with tails, top hats and polished walking canes.
Vince Curran, a member of the group, said, "We're not musical but we have fun because we get to go out and shake people's hands. It's just a way to express our pride in being Irish."
Mr. Curran marched alongside his two sons, Sean Curran, 9, and Eric Snyder, 8.
He said his family had started the day at 7 a.m. with a Mass and a breakfast banquet with 100 other members of the order.
"I didn't even have to wake up the kids this morning," he said.
"They beat me out of bed because they were so excited about today. For the Irish, it's bigger than Christmas."
Eric, wearing a green carnation on the lapel of his tuxedo jacket, added, "This day means parades and fun -- lots of fun."
St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in honor of the patron saint of Ireland, whose real name is thought to be Patricius Magonus Sucatus and who is credited with laying the foundation of the Irish Christian church. A native of Britain, he had been kidnapped and enslaved by pagan Irish raiders.
But even after escaping to Gaul -- now France -- the saint could not erase the images of the lush Irish countryside from his mind.
So he returned as a missionary.
Jim and Mary Moore have never been to Ireland, and for the past five years living in Westminster had not attended Baltimore's St. Patrick's Day parade. But yesterday the couple returned to introduce their year-old daughter, Caitlin, to some of the traditions of her heritage.
"She's traveling age now, and we wanted her to see this," said Mr. Moore, bouncing his auburn-haired daughter to the sounds of the bagpipes.
"She seems to be having fun -- it's in her genes."
"We're not into the traditions as much as some of our friends -- just enough to have corned beef and cabbage," added Mrs. Moore. "But we love parades, and this is one of the best in Baltimore."