Pandemic St Patrick’s Day: Bill de Blasio leads early-morning parade through deserted NYC streets


Ireland has been left green with envy as St Patrick’s Day celebrations kicked off across the US with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio leading an early-morning procession through the deserted streets of the Big Apple and Chicago dyeing its river bright green. 

De Blasio joined a small masked group at 6:30 am Wednesday as they marched through the Kips Bay area of Manhattan while the sun came up on the city after keeping the details of the event under wraps to avoid crowds gathering.

The tradition is one of the few to stand firm this year as the city’s huge green parade of floats and marching bands will be absent once again – one year after the 250-year celebration became one of the first casualties of the pandemic. 

Similarly, parades in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia have also been canceled or shifted to virtual events as the pandemic overshadows the day for a second year running.  

Several cities have vowed to crack down on huge parties and avoid ‘super-spreader’ events as the nation continues to battle the pandemic and plow ahead with its vaccination program.   

But, while the celebrations certainly look different to those in the pre-2020 world, that won’t stop Americans heading for reopened bars and restaurants for a day of drinking. 

It’s a stark difference to scenes in the motherland of Ireland, where pubs stay shut along Dublin’s famous Temple Bar and the biggest event is a light display along the River Liffey. 

NEW YORK CITY: Patrick’s Day celebrations kicked off across the US with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio leading an early-morning procession through the deserted streets of the Big Apple

NEW YORK CITY: The tradition is one of the few to stand firm this year as the city's huge green parade of floats and marching bands will be absent once again

NEW YORK CITY: The tradition is one of the few to stand firm this year as the city’s huge green parade of floats and marching bands will be absent once again

NEW YORK CITY: De Blasio joined a small masked group at 6:30 am Wednesday as they marched through the Kips Bay area while the sun came up on the city

NEW YORK CITY: De Blasio joined a small masked group at 6:30 am Wednesday as they marched through the Kips Bay area while the sun came up on the city

NEW YORK CITY: Mayor de Blasio praised the 'spirit of our Irish community' as the early morning parade returned to the streets of New York starting at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street and marching to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue

NEW YORK CITY: Mayor de Blasio praised the ‘spirit of our Irish community’ as the early morning parade returned to the streets of New York starting at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street and marching to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue

NEW YORK CITY: A small crowd watch as the parade walks through Manhattan before a day of virtual celebrations began

NEW YORK CITY: A small crowd watch as the parade walks through Manhattan before a day of virtual celebrations began

PHILADELPHIA: A woman pours green beer from a pitcher on the morning of St. Patrick's Day at McGillin's Olde Ale House

PHILADELPHIA: A woman pours green beer from a pitcher on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day at McGillin’s Olde Ale House

CHICAGO: Meanwhile, the Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday in a surprise move, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for second year

CHICAGO: Meanwhile, the Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday in a surprise move, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for second year

WASHINGTON DC: The fountain on the North Lawn of the White House is dyed green for St. Patrick's Day

WASHINGTON DC: The fountain on the North Lawn of the White House is dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day

Mayor de Blasio praised the ‘spirit of our Irish community’ as the early morning procession took to the streets of New York starting at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street and marching to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

The mayor held a banner reading  ‘St. Patrick’s Day Parade’ with other organizers as they walked through the streets.

An 8:30 am mass was then held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and broadcast online.

‘Happy #StPatricksDay, New York City! This morning’s parade may have looked a little different, but the spirit of our Irish community shone through all the brighter,’ the mayor’s office tweeted.

De Blasio later announced he was declaring March 17 2021 Malachy McCourt Day in the City of New York, in honor of the Irish-American actor, pub owner and politician who once ran for governor. 

Parade chairman Sean Lane told Irish Central the day was a ‘great day for the Irish’ as they revived the tradition which was brought to an abrupt end for the first time in 250 years last year. 

On March 17 2020, bars, restaurants and schools had just shuttered and the mayor and Governor Andrew Cuomo were squabbling over whether to issue a shelter in place.  

Within days, much of the nation was plunged into lockdown and New York was on track to be the virus epicenter of the world.  

Now, close to the one-year anniversary of the day COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, residents in the Big Apple are enjoying something closer to a semblance of normalcy with bars and restaurants open at limited capacity.  

However, much of the festivities will remain virtual this year.

Traditionally, the parade starts at 11 am at 44th Street, marching up Fifth Avenue past St. Patrick’s Cathedral to 79th Street and finishing around 5pm at the American Irish Historical Society at East 80th Street.

Around 150,000 marchers are watched by around two million people in the streets in a normal year. 

CHICAGO: Workers clean a boat in the Chicago River after it was dyed green in celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 13. The dyeing of the river, a St. Patrick's Day tradition in the city, was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO: Workers clean a boat in the Chicago River after it was dyed green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 13. The dyeing of the river, a St. Patrick’s Day tradition in the city, was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO: Johnny Ludwig and Chris Coomes play bagpipes ahead of St. Patrick's Day along the Chicago River, dyed green every year to honor the city's Irish American heritage

CHICAGO: Johnny Ludwig and Chris Coomes play bagpipes ahead of St. Patrick’s Day along the Chicago River, dyed green every year to honor the city’s Irish American heritage

CHICAGO: A man looks at the Chicago River after the city secretly dyed it green restoring the longstanding tradition

CHICAGO: A man looks at the Chicago River after the city secretly dyed it green restoring the longstanding tradition 

PHILADELPHIA: Patrons waste no time in starting on a day of drinking in the morning of March 17

PHILADELPHIA: Patrons waste no time in starting on a day of drinking in the morning of March 17 

PHILADELPHIA: Drinkers sit behind plexiglass dividers on the morning of St. Patrick's Day at McGillin's Olde Ale House

PHILADELPHIA: Drinkers sit behind plexiglass dividers on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day at McGillin’s Olde Ale House

PHILADELPHIA: Celebrations begin with one man sporting a signature green hat in honor of the day

PHILADELPHIA: Celebrations begin with one man sporting a signature green hat in honor of the day 

The parade started back in 1762 as a marching band of Irish expats and Irish members of the military stationed in New York.

At the time, wearing the color green was banned in Ireland so those over the other side of the pond reveled in the freedom to embrace their heritage. 

This year, the virtual parade honors first responders and essential workers who helped battle the pandemic and is broadcast on the parade website, featuring photos and footage of parades from previous years.  

A TV special in conjunction with the Catholic Faith Network will be shown at 5 pm with interviews with Parade leaders, Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the 2021 Parade honorees.

This will be followed by an NBC St Patrick’s Day special at 7 pm. 

While officials have opted for pared-back parades and official celebrations, the day may offer some much-needed income to the hard-hit bars and restaurants of New York which were only able to reopen indoor dining at a limited capacity last month.  

The National Retail Federation estimates the day will bring in around $5.1 billion spending across the US – around  $1 billion less than the 2020 pre-pandemic estimate but still a sizable amount for the industry. 

That said, there are concerns that the day will fuel a relaxation of COVID-19 precautions and undo some of the progress made in recent months in battling the virus. 

The owner of 170-year-old Manhattan landmark McSorley’s Old Ale House told Bloomberg he is urging customers to stay away in an effort to prevent a crowd of people.  

‘I don’t want a crowd outside the bar. The last thing we want is for the city to hold us up as an example as a superspreader,’ said Gregory de la Haba. 

Early risers were seen flocking to Irish pubs in Philadelphia for opening time Wednesday morning to enjoy green pitchers of booze from behind plexi-glass screen dividers in place due to COVID-19.  

In New Orleans, city officials warned revelers that they will be clamping down on St. Patrick’s Day block parties and parades that flout COVID-19 restrictions and some of the cities most popular Irish pubs have vowed to stay closed in a bid to prevent huge crowds gathering.   

NEW YORK CITY: 'Happy #StPatricksDay, New York City! This morning's parade may have looked a little different, but the spirit of our Irish community shone through all the brighter,' the mayor's office tweeted

NEW YORK CITY: ‘Happy #StPatricksDay, New York City! This morning’s parade may have looked a little different, but the spirit of our Irish community shone through all the brighter,’ the mayor’s office tweeted

NEW YORK CITY: Marchers wore military uniform and face masks as they held flags aloft and marched as the sun rose

NEW YORK CITY: Marchers wore military uniform and face masks as they held flags aloft and marched as the sun rose 

NEW YORK CITY: An 8:30 am mass was then held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan and broadcast online

NEW YORK CITY: An 8:30 am mass was then held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and broadcast online

NEW YORK CITY: In the heart of Manhattan two men hold aloft an Irish flag and a US flag to celebrate the day

NEW YORK CITY: In the heart of Manhattan two men hold aloft an Irish flag and a US flag to celebrate the day 

NEW YORK CITY: De Blasio later announced he was declaring March 17 2021 Malachy McCourt Day in the City of New York, in honor of the Irish-American actor, pub owner and politician who once ran for governor

NEW YORK CITY: De Blasio later announced he was declaring March 17 2021 Malachy McCourt Day in the City of New York, in honor of the Irish-American actor, pub owner and politician who once ran for governor

NEW YORK CITY: The morning mass held at St Patrick's Cathedral on the morning of March 17 2021

NEW YORK CITY: The morning mass held at St Patrick’s Cathedral on the morning of March 17 2021 

NEW YORK CITY: The parade started back in 1762 as a marching band of Irish expats and Irish members of the military stationed in New York

NEW YORK CITY: The parade started back in 1762 as a marching band of Irish expats and Irish members of the military stationed in New York

Tracey’s Restaurant and Bar, Finn McCool’s Irish Pub and Parasol’s Restaurant and Bar will voluntarily stay closed Wednesday to avoid drawing in huge crowds and risking being slapped with COVID-19 violations. 

Tracey’s was briefly shut down by the city in September for violating COVID-19 guidelines and the pub owners are concerned of a repeat of last year’s events where police broke up crowds at pubs and bars despite the parade being canceled and concerns mounting over the virus. 

The decision to stay shut comes despite St Patrick’s Day usually being one of their most popular days in their calendar year as well as being just days after the city increased indoor capacity for bars and restaurants. 

City leaders this week announced new St. Patrick’s Day guidelines for restaurants and bars including that restaurants can only stay open until 9 pm instead of the current 11 pm closing time. Bars meanwhile can stay open until midnight.

Over in Boston, home to a large Irish-American community, Irish pubs have prepared for smaller revelries this year as a ban on live singing marks a blow to their tradition. 

‘As is a great tradition, singing and live music is also prevalent in a lot of our great Irish pubs,’ Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, told Boston.com.  

SAVANNAH: In Savannah, Georgia more than 50,000 tourists descended on the city ahead of the day

SAVANNAH: In Savannah, Georgia more than 50,000 tourists descended on the city ahead of the day

SAVANNAH: Massive crowds gathered at bars and restaurants over the weekend for a six-day St Patrick's Day festival

SAVANNAH: Massive crowds gathered at bars and restaurants over the weekend for a six-day St Patrick’s Day festival

SAVANNAH: The mayor says police will be enforcing a citywide mask mandate among St. Patrick's crowds, with violators facing possible $500 fines

SAVANNAH: The mayor says police will be enforcing a citywide mask mandate among St. Patrick’s crowds, with violators facing possible $500 fines

SAVANNAH: Fountain waters in Forsyth Park were dyed emerald green by the city but the parade was canceled

SAVANNAH: Fountain waters in Forsyth Park were dyed emerald green by the city but the parade was canceled 

FLORIDA: About 2,400 runners participate in the annual McGuire's St. Patrick's Day Run in Pensacola on Saturday

FLORIDA: About 2,400 runners participate in the annual McGuire’s St. Patrick’s Day Run in Pensacola on Saturday

FLORIDA: Maskless runners of all ages are pictured wearing green shirts, including one that reads 'here to paddy' on Saturday in Pensacola

FLORIDA: Maskless runners of all ages are pictured wearing green shirts, including one that reads ‘here to paddy’ on Saturday in Pensacola

‘We can hear the music, you just can’t sing to the music. To me, music without singing is like peanut butter without jelly. They go better together than they do independently.’ 

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced last month that indoor performances and live music would not resume until March 22 – the Monday after St Patrick’s Day celebrations. 

However, restaurants and bars in Boston and the whole of Massachusetts no longer have a limit on the number of patrons so long as people are seated six feet apart from other tables, groups are limited to six people and there is a 90-minute time limit on dining. 

This marks a major difference to last year when the parade was axed and Governor Charlie Baker ordered a three-week lockdown starting March 17. 

Meanwhile, in Chicago this year, the Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday in a surprise move, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for a second year in a row. 

The longstanding tradition was axed last year for the first time since 1962 to avoid crowds gathering and Lightfoot at first planned the same this year. 

She came around to the idea in the hope it would help lift spirits. 

Other parts of the US have much more lax rules around COVID-19 – and in turn St Patrick’s Day celebrations. 

DUBLIN: A worker cleans the road outside The Temple Bar pub, closed down due to Covid-19, in the Temple Bar tourist area of central Dublin today

DUBLIN: A worker cleans the road outside The Temple Bar pub, closed down due to Covid-19, in the Temple Bar tourist area of central Dublin today

DUBLIN: Pedestrians walk past the Auld Dubliner pub, closed down due to COVID-19, in the Temple Bar area of Dublin

DUBLIN: Pedestrians walk past the Auld Dubliner pub, closed down due to COVID-19, in the Temple Bar area of Dublin

DUBLIN: Tom Cleary, owner of the Temple Bar poses for a picture at his pub in the Temple Bar area of Dublin City center

DUBLIN: Tom Cleary, owner of the Temple Bar poses for a picture at his pub in the Temple Bar area of Dublin City center

DUBLIN: Garda speak to a lone demonstrator on O'Connell Street in Dublin city centre ahead of a planned anti-lockdown protest

DUBLIN: Garda speak to a lone demonstrator on O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre ahead of a planned anti-lockdown protest

DUBLIN: A display by Tourism Ireland entitled 'Orchestra of Light' featuring a swarm of 500 drones is animated in the night sky above the Samuel Beckett bridge on the river Liffey

DUBLIN: A display by Tourism Ireland entitled ‘Orchestra of Light’ featuring a swarm of 500 drones is animated in the night sky above the Samuel Beckett bridge on the river Liffey 

DUBLIN: A display by Tourism Ireland entitled 'Orchestra of Light' featuring a swarm of 500 drones is animated in the night sky above the Samuel Beckett bridge on the river Liffey for St Patrick's Day, as it is cancelled for the second year in a row due to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dublin, Ireland

DUBLIN: A display by Tourism Ireland entitled ‘Orchestra of Light’ featuring a swarm of 500 drones is animated in the night sky above the Samuel Beckett bridge on the river Liffey for St Patrick’s Day, as it is cancelled for the second year in a row due to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dublin, Ireland

SYDNEY: St Patricks Day revellers at The Rocks in Sydney, Australia, party into the night in one of the few places in the world where it is legal to do so

SYDNEY: St Patricks Day revellers at The Rocks in Sydney, Australia, party into the night in one of the few places in the world where it is legal to do so

People partying in Australia for St Patrick's Day last night while Irish people back in Ireland are stuck inside their homes

People partying in Australia for St Patrick's Day last night while Irish people back in Ireland are stuck inside their homes

SYDNEY: People partying in Australia for St Patrick’s Day last night where there are no COVID-19 restrictions in place

In Savannah, Georgia more than 50,000 tourists descended on the city ahead of the day with massive crowds gathering at bars and restaurants over the weekend for a six-day St Patrick’s Day festival. 

Savannah is known for holding the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the South but there are fears the holiday could become a ‘super spreader’ event during the pandemic. 

City-run celebrations, including its annual parade, have been cancelled for the second year running but the Plant Riverside, a new $375 million hotel and nightlife development, launched a huge six-day event with live music starting Friday. 

The city’s top tourism official says hotels in the downtown historic district could be 90 percent full this weekend – the busiest they’ve been in the past year. 

Mayor Van Johnson said city officials were trying to avoid a surge in coronavirus cases by giving out an estimated 18,000 masks over the weekend and putting police officers on the streets to help enforce restrictions.    

Johnson described the festival plans were ‘a slap in the face’ to the city’s efforts to curb coronavirus infections as he warned anyone caught breaking the mask mandate could face $500 fines. 

Celebrations also began at the weekend in Florida which has drawn thousands of spring breakers in recent weeks and has no mask mandate in place.  

The annual McGuire’s St. Patrick’s Day Run in Pensacola went ahead as normal Saturday with about 2,400 maskless runners participating the annual tradition.

While there are concerns that celebrations could get out of hand in parts of the US, there appears to be no risk of that back in Ireland where pubs were shut for another St Patrick’s Day. 

Dublin Health Minister Simon Foster warned on Tuesday: ‘What I would suggest tomorrow – the most patriotic thing people can actually do in terms of our national battle against Covid-19 is stick to the public health advice.’

Instead, an ‘Orchestra of Light’ of 500 drones lit up the River Liffey in Dublin last night with shamrocks and harps.   



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