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US celebrates St Patrick's Day

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 156-year-old St Patrick's Day parade.

Thousands gathered on Saturday along the Chicago River, some wearing shamrock-shaped sunglasses and others dressed as leprechauns with strap-on orange beards. Applause erupted as a motor boat sped in circles and a man on board dumped a secret dye in the water, turning it a psychedelic green in just minutes. The much-loved, annual ritual officially kicked off a day of parades and wild parties.

This year, the guest of honour 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.

In the morning, Mr Kenny appeared at City Hall with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and both men sported green ties and shamrocks in their lapels.

The prime minister said he was honoured to take part in Chicago's festivities and praised the city with a large Irish population for being so open and receptive to immigrants. "It's a real privilege for me, as leader of my country, to come to Chicago on this St. Patrick's Day 2012 and participate in the parade," Kenny said. "And that's a privilege that I shall remember for a long time."

In Washington, President Barack Obama sipped a Guinness at an Irish bar to observe St. Patrick's Day. Obama took his motorcade to the Dubliner Restaurant and Pub on Saturday afternoon. Wearing a moss green jacket pierced with a button that read, "VIP GUEST - Tell 'em Danny sent you," Obama waded into a crowd wearing all manner of Kelly green waiting under a tent outside the tavern near Washington's landmark Union Station.

On Tuesday, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Kenny and attend a St. Patrick's Day lunch at the Capitol. Then the president and first lady Michelle Obama will host an evening reception at the White House.

In Savannah, revellers set out folding chairs before dawn, and by the time the parade kicked off about 10am in Georgia's oldest city, they were piled three-deep on the sidewalks. 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.

In New York, a sea of green, kilts and bagpipes flowed along 5th Avenue as big 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 US dollar (£110 million) renovation. He said the first phase will involve cleaning the cathedral's soot-damaged exterior and replacing its windows.

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