St. Pat's parade called biggest yet Fascination with the Irish is linked to growing turnout.


Organizers say this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade was the biggest in the 107 years the event has been held in Baltimore.

"Every year it seems to grow," said Bill McCloskey, publicity chairman for the parade, who put attendance at 170,000. He credited the growth to America's fascination with its Irish citizens.

Yesterday's mild, sunny weather also helped the turnout, which police estimated at 50,000. The spectators lined Charles Street to watch the 110 marching units that participated in the event.

Along with banners and signs that read "Erin go Bragh" and "Kiss me, I'm Irish," were other signs and yellow ribbons that reflected pride in the troops returning from the Persian Gulf war.

"I like a parade that has a lot of marching bands," said Cheryl Leister, a spectator. "I don't care much for politicians and fire trucks. When you come to a parade, you really don't want to see all that stuff."

In addition to local units, there were marching bands from Ontario, Canada, and Philadelphia. In keeping with a costume tradition shared by Ireland and Scotland, many musicians marched in kilts.

Of course, there were fire trucks and politicians. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke; Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg; Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.; state Comptroller Louis Goldstein; and Reps. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, Tom McMillen, D-4th, and Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, watched the parade.

The parade cost $25,000 to stage -- all donated -- McCloskey said. It began at Baltimore's Washington Monument at Charles and Center streets at 2 p.m. and moved south on Charles to Pratt Street before curving east to Market Place.

About 1,200 people also participated in a 5-kilometer Shamrock Run, which began at Mount Royal Avenue at the Maryland Institute, joined the parade route at Pratt Street and ended at Market Place.

Bill Jasper, 75, of the Order of the Alhambra, a fraternal organization, compared this year's march with the first one he saw in Baltimore in 1956.

"The crowds are larger and there is more activity," Jasper said. "And the weather -- it's got to be the best ever."

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