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Hundreds line up for Sunnyside St. Patty’s Day parade

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St. Patrick’s Day may be less than two weeks away, but that didn’t stop Sunnyside residents and city leaders from showing off their Irish pride Sunday.

Hundreds of marchers, bands and revelers of all backgrounds walked up Skillman Avenue for Sunnyside’s 10th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Unlike the March 16 parade on Fifth Avenue, the western Queens celebration, which had several special guests, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D−Manhattan), has been open to people of all races, creeds and sexuality.

“When you go to Ireland, the refrain you get is ‘You are welcome.’ What this parade says is that all members of the Irish community are welcome,” said Quinn, who is the first openly homosexual Council speaker.

Irish dancers, musicians, Tibetan dancers and other performers made Sunnyside look like an eclectic version of Dublin. Mary O’Connor of Sunnyside, who emigrated from Ireland 50 years ago, said she enjoyed seeing the Irish spirit on display.

“It’s one of the best ones I’ve been to,” she said of the parade. “I love it.”

Some revelers liked the parade’s low−key approach to celebrating the Irish holiday. Erin Clancy−Balsamo, 29, who came with her 19−month−old daughter, Ruby, and mother, Pegeme Watts, said she enjoyed celebrating her Irish−American heritage without traveling too far into Manhattan.

“It’s so nice to be here and so close to the parade,” she said. “Everyone wants to be Irish this season.”

Eric Hurter, 24, of Sunnyside, agreed. Although the graphic designer is not of Irish descent, he said he enjoyed seeing so many different backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

“Queens is a very diverse county. This gets people into the spirit,” said Hunter, one of the hundreds of bystanders.

Parade−goers got a musical taste of that diversity with special performances from a group of young Irish step dancers from the Bronx known as the Keltic Dreams. Led by Ireland native Caroline Duggan, the group from PS 59 included a Latino and black students who practice the Irish dances after school.

Theresa Biondoliollo, whose two daughters, Valerie and Monica, are part of the group, was happy that the dancers got to show off their talents in front of a large crowd.

“It’s one of the best things to happen to them. [The group] gives them confidence,” Biondoliollo said of her daughters.

The Sunnyside parade was established in 1999 to allow the city’s gay and lesbian community to openly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day after marchers from this group were repeatedly banned from the Fifth Avenue parade.

Several of the borough’s leaders joined the festivities, including City Council members Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside), John Liu (D−Flushing), Elizabeth Crowley (D−Middle Village) James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows) and Tony Avella (D−Bayside), state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D−Fresh Meadows) and U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) and Joseph Crowley (D−Jackson Heights).

All joined the mayor in delivering a message of tolerance and equality.

“All parades should be open to everyone. Let’s get serious,” Bloomberg said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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