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Homage to Famine Dead, Protest Mark St. Patrick's Day

March 18, 1997|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Pipes and drums fell silent for one somber minute Monday as St. Patrick's Day marchers honored the memory of 1.5 million Irish who died in the Great Potato Famine some 150 years ago.

Echoes of protest also hung over the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day parade for the seventh year in a row as three dozen demonstrators from the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization got themselves arrested. They were protesting their exclusion from the march.

The 236th annual celebration for Ireland's patron saint was otherwise a spectacle of bands, kilted bagpipers, military marching units and joyous spectators.

Organizers estimated that 150,000 people marched and a million or more watched.

"The soldiers are my favorite," said 8-year-old Joseph Bassafiume of Montville, N.J. He watched the parade from the shoulders of his father, Mario, who said the boy has "a drop" of Irish heritage.

"I love the whole thing," said Terence Sheehan, 20, costumed as a leprechaun and posing with tourists. "But the bagpipes and the drums, that's really awesome."

The moment of silence came at noon, as the New York Shield-Pipe Drum Corps drew abreast of the reviewing stand.

"It took us back 150 years, to that awful time in Ireland when 1 1/2 million people died of starvation unnecessarily," parade chairman John Dunleavy said.

It was the famine, from 1845 to 1850, that touched off the great wave of Irish immigration to the United States.

Earlier, at a Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Cardinal John O'Connor said that to ignore "Black '47," the middle and most severe year of the famine, "is to be condemned to relive it in one way or another."

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