NEW YORK (AP) -- Tourist Joan Morgan paid the ultimate compliment to revelers in the St. Patrick's Day parade Monday.
"It's much more Irish than at home," said Morgan, who is from the village of Kilcoo in Northern Ireland and had snagged a prime viewing spot across from St. Patrick's Cathedral to watch New York's annual celebration of all things Irish.
Firefighters, police officers, high school and military bands, step dancers, men in kilts, and many Irish-for-the-day snaked along the parade route to the wail of bagpipes on a sunny but chilly day.
"It's fantastic," said Damian McKevitt, another Northern Ireland resident who came to New York just for the parade. "It's Fifth Avenue; that's just huge."
The parade typically draws 2 million spectators and 150,000 marchers, and even though New York boasts the nation's largest parade, other cities also pulled out the stops.
In Indianapolis, Mayor Greg Ballard poured green dye into the newly cleaned downtown canal prior to that city's parade.
In Ohio, about 10,000 marchers were enlisted for a Cleveland parade that dates to 1867. In Columbus, the Roman Catholic bishop had asked the Shamrock Club not to hold its parade during Holy Week, but the group went ahead Monday.
Some parades were held Saturday; Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams marched in Buffalo.
In Ireland, half a million Dubliners and visitors gathered five deep to enjoy their parade, the centerpiece of a five-day festival.
But not everyone was celebrating in New York. Some gay and lesbian protesters held up signs along the parade route, angered by the parade committee's continued refusal to allow gay and lesbian groups to march under their own banners.
And the usual large contingent of politicians was absent this year, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials in Albany for the swearing-in of David Paterson as New York governor after Eliot Spitzer - implicated in a prostitution investigation - resigned in disgrace last week.
Just blocks from the parade, a neighborhood near the U.N. that was virtually shut down over the weekend because of a deadly crane accident on Saturday struggled to get back to normal. A woman who had come from Miami for St. Patrick's Day and was visiting a friend in an apartment near the collapse was among the seven killed.
There are at least half-dozen Irish bars on Second Avenue near the accident scene, and the ones that were open were packed. Michael Mullooly, manager of Jameson's Pub, noted that the death toll could have been much higher if the crane had collapsed Monday.
"If it happened today there would be carnage," he said.
But back on Fifth Avenue, Irish eyes were smiling.
Dublin resident Alan Murray had persuaded his two sisters to come with him to the U.S. to see the parade.
"We have to go to New York for Paddy's Day because it's brilliant," said Murray, whose face was painted orange, white and green, the colors of the Irish flag.
His sister Carol, wearing a feather boa in the same colors, agreed. "Everyone makes more of an effort here," she said.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.