NEW YORK — Crowds cheered and bagpipes bellowed as New York City's annual St. Patrick's Day parade kicked off Saturday, and people with a fondness for anything Irish began a weekend of festivities from the Louisiana bayou to Dublin's Parnell Square.
With the holiday itself falling on a Sunday, many celebrations were scheduled instead for Saturday because of religious observances.
In New York, the massive parade, which predates the United States, was led by 750 members of the New York Army National Guard. The 1st Battalion of the 69th Infantry has been marching in the parade since 1851.
Other participants this year include Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
Chicago was preparing for its own big parade and an eye-catching local custom: dyeing the Chicago River green.
Dublin's five-day St. Patrick's Day festival was unfolding with a new addition. For the first time, up to 8,000 visitors from around the world were due to march in a so-called people's parade on Sunday, when Ireland's capital city also intends hold its usual procession of bands and pageantry.
Kenny, who visited Chicago for St. Patrick's Day last year, was again making the holiday a jumping-off point for an extended trip to the U.S., with stops in Washington and on the West Coast over the ensuing several days.
"I will use my visit to promote Ireland's many strengths and to further reinforce our deep and abiding political and economic relationship with the United States," Kenny said in a statement this week.
He and President Barack Obama were scheduled to meet at the White House on Tuesday and exchange shamrocks, a tradition that dates to Harry S. Truman's administration. Obama also is slated to meet separately Tuesday with Peter Robinson, the leader of Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant government.
Thousands of revelers gaudily garbed in green crammed the oak-shaded squares and sidewalks of downtown Savannah, Ga., on Saturday, for a celebration that's a 189-year-old tradition.
Led by bagpipers in green kilts, a parade kicked off Saturday morning, hours after customers began lining up at downtown bars. More than 1,000 worshippers also packed the pews of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist for the Mass that traditionally precedes the parade.
Bev Kehayes, of Greensboro, N.C., joined friends near the start of the parade route. She made hats with green feathers and flowers just for the occasion.
"It's good, clean fun. Heaven forbid there's a little alcohol involved," said Kehayes, who says she's missed only three of the celebrations in Savannah in 29 years.
In Maine, St. Patrick's Day prompted Gov. Paul LePage to relent on a vow to veto any bill that reached his desk before lawmakers pass his proposal to pay a state debt to hospitals. He signed a measure Friday allowing bars to serve alcohol a few hours earlier than usual, starting at 6 a.m., on the Sunday holiday.
About 1,500 miles southwest, the city of Houma, La., was holding its unconventional celebration — an Irish-Italian parade, with a celebration that features both Irish cabbage and Italian sausage — on Sunday. The event resumed last year after a 10-year hiatus.