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The Bergenfield High School Marching Band Leads the Parade down South Washington Ave.
Posted: Sunday March 11, 2012, 9:17 PM

Under a bright blue sky, a sea of green marched down Washington Avenue on Sunday afternoon as thousands turned out to celebrate all things Irish with North Jersey’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Hundreds of bagpipers blasted their way down Washington Avenue as onlookers waived American and Irish flags. Fire engines and antique cars slowly rolled down the mile-long route to the delight of little kids. And then there were the green sweaters that seemed to be worn by every man, woman, child and, yes, even a few dogs.

The parade, in its 31st year, has become so popular that organizers said they had to turn away last-minute requests from groups to march.

“It’s really become a major event and we’re proud of that,” said organizer Peter Quinn, whose late father helped start the parade.

It took bagpiper Bill Waddell almost 90 minutes to travel from Sussex County to Bergenfield on Sunday morning. The trek was worth it as he and the other members of the Kearny Caledonian Pipe Band marched down the narrow avenue. The bagpipe is not as easy as it looks, Waddell said.

“You have to march, you have to keep holding it up and it goes out of tune within 10 minutes,” he said. “It’s a tough musical instrument, but it’s one you just don’t want to give up.”

Marchers came from every corner of North Jersey to participate Sunday, but it’s still a local affair. Onlookers shouted out to friends marching for their first or 31st time.

“We get people from all over, but it’s still nice to see your neighbors out here,” Quinn said.

Quinn and his crew of volunteers start preparing for the parade in late summer, but it’s the last five weeks when things get hectic. Sunday morning was no different. A few hours before the start, a police officer asked Quinn if he could get him anything.

“Yeah, a pint of Guinness!” Quinn said laughing.

“You and me both,” the officer replied.

Still, everything went smoothly as volunteers with walkie-talkies were able to move hundreds of marchers into position by time the parade kicked off at 2 p.m.

Among the classic cars in the parade was George Lewer’s 1931 Pierce Arrow, adorned with small Irish flags. Before the parade, a friend asked Lewer why he hadn’t painted his maroon beauty a shade of green.

“My ’38 Packard looks kind of green, but they said they had too many Packards here today,” said Lewer, himself decked out in a green sweater and hat. “So I brought my Pierce. It still looks good for St. Patrick’s Day.”

By the numbers

  • 34.7 million Americans claim Irish ancestry.
  • 1.3 million New Jerseyans claim Irish ancestry, about 15 percent of the state’s population.
  • 144,588 Irish-born in the U.S. are naturalized U.S. residents.
  • 16 towns in the U.S. are named Dublin.
  • 7 towns in the U.S. are named Shamrock.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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