CHICAGO -- Chicago dyed its river green, bagpipes sounded on New York's 5th Avenue, and in Georgia, crowds waited for 30 minutes to buy beer for breakfast before watching Savannah's 188-year-old St. Patrick's Day parade.
Thousands gathered Saturday morning along the Chicago River, some in shamrock-shaped sunglasses and others dressed as leprechauns with fake orange beards. Applause erupted as a motorboat sped in circles and a man on board dumped a secret dye in the water, quickly turning it a psychedelic green. The much-loved annual ritual kicked off a day of partying.
This year, the guest of honor was Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who took part in the parade of floats, traditional Irish dancers and musicians marching along an avenue near Chicago's lakefront. Kenny began the day at City Hall with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Both men sported green ties and shamrocks in their lapels.
The prime minister said he was honored to take part in Chicago's festivities and praised the city with a large Irish population for being so receptive to immigrants.
"That's a privilege that I shall remember for a long time," Kenny said of his role in the festivities.
In Savannah, revelers set out folding chairs before dawn to catch the parade, a tradition that started in 1824 as a procession with religious roots by settlers who immigrated to the Georgia coast.
Lines of thirsty patrons were spilling out of downtown bars before the pre-parade Mass wrapped up at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
"It's ridiculous for still being in the a.m.," said Timmy Watkins, a utility worker who emerged from Pinkie Master's Lounge with a beer in each hand after standing in line for 30 minutes. "These are both mine. I waited in line long enough. I figured I'd get two."
On Chicago's riverfront, 6-year-old Elly Weber sat on her father's shoulders wearing some bobbly, antennae-like shamrock headgear and marveled at how the river first turned yellow and then, almost immediately, an eye-popping green.
Her 3-year-old brother, Sean, was equally stupefied.
"It's getting all green," he cried out. "Will everything turn green? Why?"
A few kayakers couldn't resist the chance to paddle through the unnatural-looking water. Crowds watching from a bridge roared their approval when one of the paddlers purposely half-capsized his kayak, dunking himself in the green water.
In New York, a sea of green, kilts and bagpipes flowed along 5th Avenue as large crowds gathered for the city's 251st annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the city's Roman Catholics, announced before the parade stepped off that iconic St. Patrick's Cathedral would undergo a $175 million renovation. He said the first phase will involve cleaning the cathedral's soot-damaged exterior and replacing its windows.
Even President Barack Obama paid tribute to his Irish heritage, as one of his great-great-great grandfathers on his Kansas mother's side emigrated from Ireland in 1850. Last year, Obama visited his ancestral home of Moneygall and drank a Guinness at the local pub.
This year, the president stopped into the Dubliner Restaurant and Pub near Washington's landmark Union Station for a pint, accompanied by Moneygall bar owner Ollie Hayes and Henry Healy, an eighth cousin to Obama and the closest relative still living in Ireland.
Across the ocean in Dublin, an estimated half a million people turned out for the parade that serves as a focal point for worldwide celebrations. It brought some cheer to a nation that has been grappling with 14 percent unemployment, a massive debt burden and a resumption of emigration levels last seen in the 1980s.
In his St. Patrick's Day message, Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady offered prayers to the estimated 50,000 citizens who have emigrated in the past year to escape Ireland's weak economy.
"May the memory of St. Patrick, who was himself carried off from his homeland at the age of 16, sustain all those who have left our shores for other lands," Brady said, referring to the saint's legendary background as a slave imported from Britain.
Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., Meghan Barr in New York, Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.