News St. Patrick's Day parade brings thousands to Fifth Ave. The New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade is the country's oldest and proudest Irish tradition. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert By MORGAN LYLE. Newsday Updated March 17, 2014 8:18 PM Print Share fbShare Tweet Email Thousands of Irish -- whether by birth or in spirit -- braved chilly winds and controversy Monday to enjoy the sights and sounds of the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day parade. The Manhattan parade stepped off in subfreezing temperatures but there was no lack of enthusiasm among the green-bedecked throng. "We're glad we're right up against the road, so all the people behind us block the wind," said Sandy Michelsen, 58, of Glen Cove, with a laugh from her viewing spot. And unlike last year's parade, it didn't snow. "This is a day at the beach," compared to last year, quipped Michelsen's friend Donna Muzante, 58, of East Norwich. VIPs reviewed the parade from the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was shrouded in scaffolding for its $175 million renovation. John T. Ahern, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, was the grand marshal. The parade had been dogged by controversy. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council boycotted over its exclusion of lesbian and gay groups. Guinness USA and Heineken withdrew their sponsorship for the same reason. But Police Commissioner Bill Bratton marched in it, as did dozens of members of both the NYPD and FDNY. Approximately 100 protesters stood on a designated spot on the Fifth Avenue parade route holding a "Boycott Homophobia" rainbow banner. "We think that everyone in the Irish community should have the right to march, and that includes the LGBT community," said Brooklyn resident Gaby Cryan, 30. By MORGAN LYLE. Newsday Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Comments We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.