March 26. 2017 6:43PM

St. Patrick's Day Parade draws thousands to city

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader


Bektash Shrine clowns “Girlie Girlie” Michele Thomas, left, and “Bo Bo” Ralph Sommese, a married couple from Mont Vernon, pause before the start of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manchester on Sunday. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Bagpipes, bands and Bektash Shrine clowns entertained thousands who lined Elm Street on Sunday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“I love the bagpipes, celebrating the heritage,” said Manchester resident Anna Pantazis, who comes with family every year.

“It’s a nice, springtime happy parade,” Pantazis said. “I like the winter one, too. This one’s warmer.”

Her 6-year-old son, Parker, wore a green “Irish I was a Ninja” T-shirt and a festive green and black hat.

“I’m liking the guys doing the unicycles” juggling while making their way along Elm Street, from Salmon to Central streets, he said.

About 2,000 people marched, including a clown couple from Mont Vernon.

Michele Thomas, known as “Girlie Girlie,” said it takes her about two hours to get into costume, which included a red nose and green umbrella. Her husband, Ralph Sommese, becomes “Bo Bo” in half the time.

They both said they feed off the crowd’s reaction.

“I think the best thing is when they see us, they smile and that makes us smile,” Ralph Sommese said before the parade.

About 80 units from as far away as Syracuse, N.Y., participated.

This year’s grand marshal, Manchester native Al Heidenreich, said holding the parade further away from March 17 means less competition for Manchester to attract bands and groups.

He attributes the parade’s popularity, even with snowbanks along the parade route, to “everyone wanting to be Irish, number one.”

He said St. Patrick must have been watching out. The 1949 Manchester High School West graduate said it was West’s turn to perform in Sunday’s parade.

The parade featured mini-monster trucks that did circles literally along Elm Street and “Star Wars” stormtroopers on patrol.

Manchester police rode in cruisers, a SWAT vehicle and atop horses. Their K-9 partners also walked the route.

Five-year-old Kenzie Marston, whose family moved to Manchester within the past year, liked “the horsie part” with police as well as the clowns.

Her mother, Faith, recalled her days in the band at Salem High School dating back in the 1990s.

“This is warmer than most parades I had marched in,” she said.

Morning sun gave way to clouds and an afternoon breeze.

“It could be snowing,” said Manchester’s Connie Cypher, 69, who noted Saturday’s snowfall.

The highlight is “all the music” and “the bagpipes for sure,” said Cypher, who said she’s been attending the parade “forever.”

Sarah Lefebvre of Goffstown brought her three daughters.

“They do like the clowns,” she said. “We like it all.”

mcousineau@unionleader.com