Not frigid weather nor threat of snowflakes could deter the thousands of revelers who swarmed South Boston Sunday afternoon for the city’s 116th St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Small children sat on parents’ shoulders, reaching for confetti flying through the air as floats rolled by. Clowns danced in the streets while paradegoers attempted Irish step-dancing on the sidewalks, with bagpipes playing in the background.
The parade kicked off around 1 p.m. with firetrucks blaring their horns. Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker waved as they marched near the front, triggering strong applause from the animated crowd.
The parade featured military vehicles and marching bands along with the Dropkick Murphys, and horses pulling carriages full of beer barrels, while the crowd wore all manner of emerald attire: beads, hats, jackets, even onesies on adults.
“I’m expecting to see the best and worst of Southie,” said a laughing Samantha Bokatzian of Allston, who had never been to the parade before.
Though the sporadic snowflakes never accumulated on the ground, the parade followed a shortened route this year after officials expressed safety concerns Thursday about the weather forecast. It began at Broadway Station and followed West and East Broadway, but ended at Farragut Road instead of turning around and heading toward Old Colony Avenue.
Grace King, 55, lives in Atlanta but came all the way to Boston just for the parade. King, who said she is part Irish, arrived early, decked out in green, from her jacket and hat to her shamrock sunglasses.
“I love St. Paddy’s Day more than I love Christmas; can’t you tell?” said King, gesturing at her festive garb, which she didn’t have to go far into her closet to find. She has been to Ireland twice, she said, and her house “is like an Irish gift shop.”
George Bibb and his sister, who were visiting from Nashville, attended the parade after seeing the Dropkick Murphys perform in Boston over the weekend.
“We love the city,” said Bibb, 39. “We found Southern hospitality in the north.”
Festivities began earlier Sunday morning in Boston with the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, a private event full of often painfully bad jokes from Massachusetts politicians, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who represents South Boston, hosted the event for the fourth year in a row.
As usual, hundreds of marchers, bands, and floats participated in the parade, and also as usual, there was controversy over who the lineup would include.
OUTVETS, a group of LGBTQ veterans, inspired a roar of welcome from the crowd as they marched by, carrying the rainbow flag that had been the source of much debate.
A longstanding battle was briefly reignited between parade organizers and the group this month. After the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council voted on March 7 to bar OUTVETS from marching, public figures including Walsh, Baker, and Senator Edward Markey threatened to pull out, as did some corporate sponsors.
Upon a second vote by organizers three days later, OUTVETS were allowed to participate without restriction.
Forry and City Councilor Tito Jackson, who is running for mayor, did not march in the parade, citing the initial treatment of OUTVETS by organizers.
Bryan Bishop, a 48-year-old OUTVETS member from East Boston who marched in the parade, said he is often asked, “Why do you have to be a gay vet? Why can’t you just be a vet?”
In response, said the retired Air Force tech sergeant, he points to the hundreds of veterans organizations across the country, including Jewish veterans and disabled veterans.
“I’m a veteran who happens to be part of the LGBTQ community,” said Bishop, “and I’m here proudly with my fellow veterans to honor the service and sacrifice of those who have given so much to this country — and in some cases, received so little.”
Among the Irish flags hanging proudly from balconies along the parade route, Sean Cronin displayed a rainbow flag and an American flag outside his West Broadway apartment as a show of support for the group.
Spectators cheering the OUTVETS included Jo Bunny and her wife, Lise Krieger, who waved their own rainbow flag from the sidewalk. The Whately couple said it was their first time at the parade, and they had come specifically to support the LGBTQ veterans.
Adriana Taplin, an 18-year-old freshman at Suffolk University, said she would not have attended the parade if OUTVETS had been barred from marching.
“As a black woman, if I had come today if [OUTVETS] weren’t allowed to walk — it would have been a disservice to people like myself,” who have faced “hundreds of years” of discrimination themselves, said Taplin.
Veterans for Peace, an international group that bills itself as “dedicated to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war,” said they were barred from marching, however. The group assembled at 524 East Broadway in silent protest during the parade, according to a statement by Veterans for Peace.
Toward the finale of the parade, some moments were decidely not family-friendly.
As the festivities were ending, chaos broke out by the corner of West Broadway and East Broadway as merrymakers yelled and started fistfights.
Nearby, inside the Amsterdam Cafe, some revelers vomited inside a trash can. Owner Radek Matwijewski said a young man went into the cafe’s bathroom and fell asleep on the toilet. Matwijewski had to break open the door to get the man out.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s a lot of drunk people, but it’s the best day to make money.”
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo tweeted that vandalizing four commuter rail coaches on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade was an “odd way of expressing gratitude” for the weekend commuter rail service, which the organization is considering eliminating.
By 7:30 p.m., Boston police reported that they had made one arrest for disorderly conduct and 181 civil citations for public drinking in connection with parade festivities.