NAPLES — Shades of green blanketed downtown Naples on Saturday as Neapolitans erupted in Irish pride.
Thousands of revelers lined the streets, adorned with anything and everything green -- green sparkling bowler hats, green beaded necklaces, green shamrock-print pants -- to take in the 32nd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
What they came for on this cloudless, warm afternoon was a two-hour festival of floats and musical performances celebrating what some there called the happiest people on the globe.
“The Irish do everything over the top,” said Patti Thorsen, of Naples, waving a fist full of green, white and orange Irish national flags, wearing shamrock beads around her neck and a puffy green hat that stood a foot tall on her head.
She bounced to the sounds of the local Harp and Thistle Pipe Band, in their green and gold tartan kilts, bagpipes sounding out God Bless America.
Thorsen is three-quarters Irish, the other quarter Norwegian, she said.
She comes every year and this year she secured her front-row seat on Eighth Street South by arriving an hour and a half early.
“We’re happy people,” Thorsen said. “We want everyone to be happy.”
The crowd was happy when Palmetto Ridge High School marched by with clover color guard flags.
That caught the attention of Jack Fitzgerald who came down from Bonita Springs.
Saturday’s parade, with crowds cheering together for the Irish folk songs and the Irish flag, reminded him of his days in Buffalo, N.Y., where he grew up with and worked with mostly Irish.
“We are all Irish Catholics and we all stuck together,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the celebration was all part of a good life.
“I like beer. I like songs.” Fitzgerald said. “And I tell you it hasn’t hurt me.”
Fitzgerald’s dog, Kera, a 6-year-old Boston terrier, was a big hit with other parade-goers.
With shamrock stickers on her lead and a harness filled with green carnations, passers-by stopped to have their pictures taken with the black-and-white dog.
Kera wasn’t the only dog taking in the festivities. A standard poodle was shaved down except for a few rings of hair circling her body; the white hair had been dyed green. Even an Irish wolfhound made an appearance.
The event was complete with more common parade participants -- clowns tossing candy and politicians taking the opportunity to advertise their platforms.
Mandy Rook of Naples brought 3-year-old Julia to Third Street South, where she oohed and ahhed over the floats, drums and cheerleaders.
She came not because of Irish heritage, Rook said, “it’s just festive.”
Mariann MacDonald and several of her friends dressed in green shirts with pink letters spelling the “Mighty Macs.”
They had just come from running in the 5K Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure in Estero on Saturday morning before heading to the parade.
“Even though I’m of Italian descent, we go for the green,” MacDonald said of the reason they chose to make their team shirts green.
Some had seen all they needed of the parade and made their way to Sugden Community Theater, where the downtown Naples plaza had been converted into a beer garden.
The Irish music band West of Galway prepared to entertain the crowded tables, where Mary and Jim Hammond decided to take a break.
They had walked in the parade in honor of their son, part of the Notre Dame alumni group.
The Hammonds _ both of their mothers had Irish roots _ sipped water before diving into a Guinness. For them, the parade was about bringing out in everyone the nature of the Irish community.
“They’re so happy and lovable,” Mary Hammond said.
Her husband agreed, saying his wife was Irish and German, but it was the Irish that won him over.
“The German can cook, but I fell in love with the Irish,” he said.