St Patricks Day Parade New York

LUCK OF THE IRISH — Sharon Keely (left) of Dublin watches as participants march up Fifth Avenue during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday.

NEW YORK — A new, troublesome topic hovered over the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York this year: Britain’s failed Brexit deal with the European Union that could squeeze Ireland’s economy.

But nothing could put a damper on the largest American celebration of Irish heritage on Saturday, with tens of thousands of marchers following a painted green line up Fifth Avenue for the six-hour procession.

Kevin Coughlan, a 27-year-old spectator wearing pants with four-leaf clovers, captured both the New York celebration and the political near-catastrophe overseas, where he still has plenty of family — in Ireland.

“I’ve always been so proud to be an Irish-American; today is about celebrating our freedom,” said the Hoboken,

New Jersey, resident.

His mood darkened when he turned to Brexit, which “is definitely something we’re all worried about, especially my family,” he said. “I mean, we’re all sort of just waiting for the shoe to drop to see what this means for the Irish economy.”

But, he added, “We can get through anything; we survived a potato famine.”

This year’s official parade theme was immigration, with Brian O’Dwyer, an immigration attorney and activist as the grand marshal. He’s a co-founder of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens that helps clients including a group of Latino immigrants that joined O’Dwyer on Saturday.

Through its history, dating back more than 250 years, the New York parade has often had a political element. In the 1970s and 1980s, as sectarian violence flared in Northern Ireland, there were controversies over the inclusion of groups supporting the militant wing of the Irish Republican Army. A banner reading “England get out of Ireland” has flown in the parade since the 1940s.

And for more than two decades, LGBTQ groups were officially banned from marching, until 2015, when marchers under a banner linked to NBC were first allowed in, opening the doors to other LGBTQ participants since then.

This year’s march is taking place amid a new set of questions about relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“It is pretty ironic that we’re celebrating Irish freedom and unity over here, while they’re debating the Irish border over there,” said paradegoer Chris Mahan, 56. “They still don’t know what Brexit will mean for them, for their economy and yea, even their unity as a nation.”

But for most at Saturday’s parade, the political debate over took a back seat to the pageantry.

Elsewhere in the U.S., the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the South was held in Savannah, Georgia. Started by Irish immigrants to Georgia’s oldest city 195 years ago, the March parade has ballooned into a sprawling street party that’s the No. 1 tourist draw for Savannah.

“Savannah’s like a bad drug,” said Bruce Souers, a Savannah native, as he sipped Jameson Irish whiskey from a plastic cup. “Once it’s in your blood, you can’t get rid of it.”

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