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Irishman has a toast for seductive stateside St. Patrick's Day fest

By Stephen Murphy, Special to CNN
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Celebrating Green in Savannah
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Irish reporter spends St. Patrick's day in Savannah, Georgia
  • Savannah's celebration is among the largest in the U.S.
  • Americans do St. Paddy's "bigger and better than the Irish," he says
RELATED TOPICS
  • Holidays
  • Ireland

Editor's note: Stephen Murphy is a news reporter with CNN affiliate TV3 Ireland.

Savannah, Georgia (CNN) -- I hate green. May Patrick and all the blessed saints forgive my blasphemous Irish heart, but to me, green is the color of jealousy, mucus and polyester football shirts. It's not a cool color.

Yet here I am in Savannah, Georgia, drowning in a sea of green. They've dyed the beer green. They've dyed the fountains green. For all I know, they probably tried dying the Atlantic green. And I'm loving it.

A veteran reporter of umpteen goose-pimply Irish parades, this year I'm spending it stateside. So CNN sent me to this genteel Southern burg, which unaccountably explodes into a rowdy Mardi Gras of shamrockery and shenanigans once a year.

They call this the second-biggest St. Patrick's Day parade in the U.S. (shut up, Chicago), and they've been painting the town green since 1824. It's something to do with Protestant Irish settlers or the like, but the finer details have been lost in the mists of time. And booze.

Now it's the city's biggest money-spinner. "We're totally sold out," local hotelier Bridgett Seay says. "It's our biggest money-making holiday ever. You've got people that've been coming here for 40 or 50 years. That's how we make our money."

Of course, the green hordes crowding Savannah's quaint Historic District care not about vacancy rates or retail sales.

"Erin go bragh -- whoooo!", screams a group of girls from somewhere called Atlantaaaaah, wearing lurid green hot pants. Which, in American, means "we're here for the atmosphere."

"It's so festive, everyone's Irish today ... even people who hate the Irish," says Jim Daly from Savannah, displaying an excellent grasp of the complexities of my people.

The parade itself, which winds its way from Abercorn Street, is fantastic fun. Unusual from an Irish point from view, the throwing of green beads and random kissing turns the march into a pretty interactive event.

Amid the screams and bagpipes, Chris Erickson, the CNN photographer, points out that I haven't stopped smiling once. And I've got lipstick all over my face. It's been that kind of day.

It's always been a central irony of St. Patrick's Day that Americans do it bigger and better than the Irish, and today has done nothing to change that impression.

Sure, we've started taking it more seriously in recent years, but when the Chicago River runs jade, and 2 million line the streets of New York, we feel like any guy outshone by his upstart little brother. We're the Fredo Corleone of Paddy's Day celebrations.

Never mind. It's now time to lose my green beer virginity in a cozy dive somewhere on River Street, where the Spanish moss has given way to shillelaghs and the plastic cups crackle sweetly underfoot.

So help me Patrick, soon, the greenest thing in beautiful Savannah will be my liver.