NEW YORK - (AP) - Paradegoers in kilts and green body paint cameto New York City from all over the nation on Wednesday to join whatorganizers bill as the world's oldest and largest St. Patrick's Dayparade.

As many as a quarter-million marchers headed upManhattan's Fifth Avenue. The embrace of Irish heritage and culture in New York Cityincludes bands, bagpipes and grand marshal Ray Kelly, the city'spolice commissioner.

The 249th St. Patrick's Day extravaganza will be the last of NewYork City's world-famous parades to take place before newrestrictions go into effect April 1 requiring all parades to beshorter to save money.

The city issued the new parade rules in February. All paradesmust cut routes by 25 percent and reduce time to less than fivehours, changes estimated to save $3.1 million in police expenses.

The St. Patrick's Day parade runs about 2.1 miles from 44thStreet to 86th Street and is typically a six-hour celebration.

With the sun shining and temperatures in the 60s, a largeturnout was expected in New York City.

Parade participants on Wednesday included the "Fighting 69th,"a New York National Guard unit whose history stretches to the U.S.Civil War when immigrants made up the so-called "Irish Brigade"of the Union Army.

Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended Mass atSt. Patrick's Cathedral before the parade.

Representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groupswere not allowed to participate in the march - at least, not undertheir own banner.