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St. Paddy's Day Parade Split Into Two Celebrations02:39
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For the first time, the long-spurned groups held their own parade on the same route an hour later. (AP)
For the first time, the long-spurned groups held their own parade on the same route an hour later. (AP)

Tens of thousands of people turned out for the 110th St. Patrick's Day parade in South Boston Sunday. This has long been a contentious affair because organizers have blocked gay, lesbian and anti-war groups from marching.

The Supreme Court supported the organizers' right to exclude anyone they wanted. So this year, for the first time, the spurned groups held their own parade on the same route an hour later.

When the official parade ended, most people split. Only the hardcore Southie residents and their families stayed. As always, Broadway turned into a carnival of house parties.

"I'm sitting on the stairs watching the world go by, but my entire family and all their friends are upstairs eating, after having a few cocktails," says James O'Connell.

"After they're done eating, they'll probably start singing Irish songs and enjoying themselves for the rest of the night."

He says he's a little curious about Veterans for Peace, the folks who march down his street in a few minutes.

"I'm not sure a lot of people know that there is a second parade. I heard rumors about the second parade — and they weren't good," he says. "I hear that it's a radical group of veterans that don't appreciate what veterans do."

The parade has long been a contentious affair because organizers have blocked gay, lesbian and anti-war groups from marching.

O'Connell's brother Sean came onto the porch wearing an over-sized green leprechaun top hat.

"It's the St. Pattie's Day parade. There should be no other parades here. That's all," he says. "Another day if they want it.

"Why do they have it after ours? They kind of throw it in our face."

When the second parade started, it looked like any other parade: cute old men wearing their military uniforms waved from a convertible. Only these guys wore garlands decorated with peace doves.

Some supporters did a costume change — they took off their green beads and replaced them with peace signs. Some people just looked on stoically.

Marie Espinosa from Wrentham yelled at the marchers: "Support the troops! Support them wherever they are!"

Espinosa says the marchers should stop protesting at soldiers' funerals. That got the attention of a man behind her, who called himself a Marine veteran. His name is Ryan O'Shea.

"I'm sorry sweetheart. You are grossly mistaken. Do you know who, like, actually boycotts army funerals?" O'Shea says.

Espinosa wasn't the only person here who thought Veterans for Peace made a practice of picketing memorial services for fallen soldiers.

"These guys are over there fighting so that these people have the right to, you know, protest and boycott."

Randolph resident Joanne Batson was here with her mother Debbie.

"I just don't think that it's fair that they're stomping all over our soldiers' good names," Batson says.

After all the parades were over, I asked Pat Scanlon if his group, Veterans for Peace, had ever held signs at a military funeral.

"That's ridiculous and I shouldn't have even responded to it, because it's so outlandish," Scanlon says. "I don't know where you got that."

"Because that's what people were saying who were yelling at you on the parade course," I respond.

"That shows you how ignorant those particular people you spoke to are. We have never ever protested at a funeral and I would never do that," he says.

Scanlon says Veterans for Peace supports the troops, just not the policies that sent them to war. His group wants to participate in the St. Patrick's Parade because, he says, "that is a very militaristic parade. And South Boston is a prime hunting ground for recruiters."

"All we wanted to do," Scanlon says, "was to walk in the parade, Veterans For Peace, with our flags, with the American flags and our banner. But they didn't want us in that parade because we represent a different political agenda than they do."

According to Scanlon, Sunday's parade went beautifully and most people along the route supported their cause. He's hoping to be included in next year's official parade.

But organizer John "Wacko" Hurley, from South Boston's Allied War Veterans Council, says that won't happen.

"The Supreme Court says no to whoever we don't want. They will not be in the parade that the Allied War Veterans runs. That is the law of the land," Hurley says.

Looks like there may be a new St. Patrick's Day tradition: two parades in South Boston.

This program aired on March 21, 2011.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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