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Controversy fails to take fun out of St. Patrick’s Day Parade

At the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston, marchers in the procession waved to onlookers decked out in green.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

At the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston, marchers in the procession waved to onlookers decked out in green.

After weeks of tense negotiations between parade organizers and a gay rights group, the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration wound its way through South Boston beneath a bright sun that shone down on few hints of politics or controversy.

The crowds were massive and raucous, as in any year, and marchers appeared good-humored and proud — of their Irish heritage, military service, the close-knit neighborhood, and, in some cases, the inclusiveness of the new South Boston.

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Marchers from the South Boston Association of Non-Profits, including members of the gay community, carried a rainbow of banners expressing the group’s values: “We stand for equality,” read one. “We stand for respect.” “We stand for inclusion.”

“People were very happy to see us,” said Michael Dowling, president of the association, which includes 70 South Boston nonprofits. “We got a lot of applause. Nothing negative at all. We’re already talking about our float for next year.”

The group made a rare splash of red and blue amid the sea of green. Revelers layered on green top hats, jewelry, mustaches, glasses, feather boas, and antennas with clovers at their tips.

Ellena Augoustakis, 25, of North Attleborough wore green accessories that included fake pigtails, a sequined hair bow, several strands of beads, and socks.

“I just like being festive,” she said. “Living in America, it’s such a melting pot, I think it’s important to celebrate all holidays.”

The parade included roughly 30 marchers in scally caps who were affiliated with the St. Vincent’s Lower End Neighborhood Association. They accompanied a float with seven cannons that fired a rainbow of fabrics into the air, landing in a pot of gold.

The marchers, most of them gay men, charmed onlookers with 500 pounds of plastic beads. People stood three deep at police barricades and stretched their hands above their heads, jumping up and down as they screamed for beads.

“This is a blast; you can feel the energy,” said Randy Foster, who lives near the parade route and spearheaded the float. “I don’t know if they know I’m gay. And who cares?”

Other marchers included a Coast Guard contingent, a troop of Ghostbusters, and the Lexington Minutemen reenactors, who startled the crowd periodically with a thunderous volley from their muskets.

Also present were several Boston Marathon bombing survivors trailed by an MIT police cruiser, dispatched in memory of Officer Sean Collier, allegedly slain by the Marathon bombers in the aftermath of the terror attack.

The crowd chanted “Boston Strong,” the slogan coined for Boston’s post-attack resilience, as the marchers went past.

Eunice Rush, a native of County Donegal, attended the parade with her 3-year-old twins, Darragh and Ryan; her 2-year-old son, Conor; and her sister Louise Doherty, visiting from Ireland for a family wedding set to coincide with the holiday weekend.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” said Rush, 35, who emigrated 12 years ago and brought her sons to the parade for the first time.

“They loved it,” she said. “Just the look on their faces when the fire engines all came up was like, aww.”

Doherty, 33, said the Boston parade was far superior to the one back home in Donegal, but she expressed some concern about the alcohol being consumed.

“I think it’s getting really rough,” she said. “There’s very young people that seem very drunk here.”

Some appeared to view the day as an occasion for unabashed public drinking. Beer cans littered the streets, and men sought the privacy of alleyways to urinate. At West Broadway and D Street, four people openly shared a bottle of Irish whiskey.

Dense crowds combined with intoxication led to minor scuffles along the parade route.

Police arrested two parade-goers on charges of disorderly conduct and three on allegations of public drinking, according to Officer Rachel McGuire, a police spokeswoman. McGuire said officers issued 293 civil citations for public drinking violations and placed one person in protective custody.

Last year, police arrested 33 people, most for disorderly conduct, and cited 336 for drinking in public, according to Globe reports.

The celebration went on as usual after the breakdown of negotiations between parade organizers from the Allied War Veterans Council and the statewide gay-rights organization MassEquality, which sought to end a two-decade ban on groups espousing progay messages.

The exclusion withstood the scrutiny of the US Supreme Court, which ruled in 1995 that, as a private organization, the veterans group could turn away those it deemed inappropriate. Parade organizers said that has included groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist Church.

Organizers have said gay men and lesbians are welcome so long as they promote no political agenda.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh brought MassEquality and parade organizers to the negotiating table, but failed to broker an agreement and did not march in the parade.

The talks broke down over language: Parade organizers would not permit signs or clothing bearing the word “gay” or any declaration of sexual orientation.

MassEquality would not march without those words, comparing the restriction to a return to the “closet” of concealing one’s identity.

“It came down to what letters were on a banner, which is very unfortunate,” Walsh said Sunday at the New England Food Show, where he delivered the keynote address just as the parade began.

Walsh said he would try again next year and expressed optimism that differences could be sorted out. “This time next year, we won’t be having this discussion,” he said.

At the parade, an enthusiastic group of friends, students at Lynnfield High School, said the time had come for gay men and lesbians to openly participate in the annual rite.

“This is 2014,” said Kelly Corcoran, 18. “Everybody can march. Wake up.”

Though many other local elected officials kept their distance, Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who worked with Walsh to enable the negotiations, attended the parade, as did City Councilors Frank Baker and Michael Flaherty and State Representative Nick Collins.

In a statement Sunday, Lynch said he participated because skipping the parade would be a disservice to his South Boston neighbors and might imply that only one side was to blame for the failed negotiations.

Lynch also said parade organizers had approved a request for gay veterans to march as guests in his contingent so long as they abided by the rules. “That’s the best I could do,” Lynch said.

Parade organizers found support for their position in the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen, near the route’s start, where Samuel Adams beer was not being served because the Boston Beer Co., which makes the brew, withdrew its sponsorship of the parade over the exclusion of openly gay marchers.

Ross Cloutier, 32, of Bellingham said he and his wife were not going to let politics disrupt their day, but he applauded the owner’s decision not to serve the beer. Cloutier is usually a Sam Adams drinker, he said, but not today.

“Good for them. If you believe in something strongly, you stand by it,” Cloutier said.

Globe correspondents Zachary Sampson and Haven Orecchio-Egresitz contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
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