Kathleen McDonald nodded toward the raucous crowd gathering in front of the state Capitol.
“These people are rookies,” she said.
Mary Bernard quickly explained: “You’re not going to meet anyone more Irish than us. We have the roots.”
It would be an hour before marchers and vehicles in the city’s 64th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade would make their way past the Eagle Street bus stop where McDonald and Bernard stood Saturday afternoon with another very Irish friend. They were still waiting on more people to meet them.
The friends from North Albany have met in this spot, every year on parade day, for the past 30 years. When they’re not watching the parade, they’re running into friends they only run into on St. Paddy’s Day weekend. Afterward, they take the trolley to the North Albany American Legion Post on North First Street and celebrate their Irish heritage with a DJ, a dance floor, some alcohol and a bit of corned beef and cabbage.
“If you’re not Irish, you’ll want to be,” said Bernard.
Parade day in Albany is no small holiday. Mobs of people clad in green clog city streets along the parade route. There are college kids excited about another excuse to drink, children excited about the Clydesdales and fire trucks, Irish-Americans excited about all the Irish pride and practically everyone excited about being outside at the tail end of winter without their noses turning red.
Parade day is also an excuse to don as much green clothing and accessories as one owns. Saturday in downtown Albany was full of green shirts, vests, shoes, tights, hats, feather boas, scarves, bow ties, bandannas and old Michigan State tees. There were shamrocks galore, neon green wigs and tutus, green beads and face paint, and even one shiny green body suit.
“Oh this is bigger than Christmas,” said Sandy Bedian, of Averill Park.
She was one of the North Albany girls who call themselves Limericks. Bedian, Bernard and McDonald all grew up together in North Albany. Their daughters all used to tap dance together. These days, they all work for the state together.
They showed up to the bus stop Saturday decked in green scarves, purses, gloves, socks, earrings and eye shadow.
“Oh wait,” said Bernard, tilting her head slyly toward McDonald. “Look it, green underwear!”
Judi Dardanelli was also using Parade Day as a chance to catch up with old friends. She and two others had grabbed a spot along a railing set up on State Street.
“We like the parade,” she said. “We like the tradition. It’s pretty big for this area. Wait until about 3 o’clock and you’re not going to be able to walk through the crowd.”
Dardanelli is also of Irish descent and could prove it.
“My maiden name is Goodale,” she said. “So yeah, I’m Irish.”