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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Chicago's South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade


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Update: The Parade was a huge sucess this year. The combination of unusually warm weather and an upcoming primary election drew an estimated 350,ooo people, including The Chicago White Sox Team Bus with their 2005 World Championship Trophy, Minnie Minosa, members of the New York City Police and Fire Departments and Bands.

As usual the parade committe scored a public official from Ireland, this time it was Toireasa Ferris, 26-year-old mayor of the Kerry County Council in Ireland, who was duly impressed by the day's activities.

As a witness, I would have to say that it was one of the most enjoyable parades I can remember. Kids, family, fun. Lots of floats (well over a hundred), bagpipe and marching bands (seemed like dozens), people handing out things, riding giant unicycles, clydesdales, that kind of thing. And as weather miracles go, it wasn't half bad, it only started to get cold at the end, when the crowd needed to be disbursed anyway.

If you can, and want to have a nice family time, try to make it next year. With a parade route the length of this one, there is probably room for another 200,000 before having to make it longer!

It's time again for the largest neighborhood parade in America, Chicago's South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday, March 12, 2006 in the Neighborhood of Beverly, where many of Chicago's Irish have settled.

This year’s parade is scheduled for Sunday, March 12, 2006, with a 12:00 P.M. sharp step-off from 103rd & Western Ave.

The Chicago Fireman's Bucks For Burn Camp is this year’s Grand Marshal. The Parade is also honoring Special Children’s Charities/Special Olympics Chicago as this year’s Special Honoree. Please click on their respective links for more information about these amazing organizations.

The parade is amazing good family fun. Parking is sparse after 11:00. Don't worry there is plenty to see and do if you get there early. If you are with small children the East side of Western Avenue, the dry side, is a better deal, as the West side, which hosts a number of taverns can be a bit rowdy.

There is plenty of Police presence on horseback. Many marching bands and in an election year before the primary you can expect politicos a plenty. Especially Republican Gubenatorial candidates praying fervantly that George Ryan, once the pride of the Republican Party is not convicted in before the primary putting a serious blot on all of their clean government platforms. LOL. But I digress.

The weather is supposed to be clear with a high of 63 degress. Perfect parade weather. This suggests a record turnout, one not to be missed.

To somone from Ireland, where St. Patrick's day March 17th, was primarily a holy day, rather than a day of roudy celebration, the rituals of some of their American cousins seem profoundly strange. I remember some years ago, telling some corporate visitors of one of my friends who were here from Dublin about one of our regular Chicago traditions, and they refused to believe it as preposterous tourist baiting, that is until we walked them across the Dearborn street bridge and let them see it for themselves.

They were stunned into speachlessness, because clearly we could not have set up a practical joke on so grand a scale. And then over the next two days the watched two parades, the one downtown and the one on the South Side.

Now until lately, this was in the early 80's, these kinds of things, even city parades on this scale were unknown in Ireland, and so they were stunned that their American Cousins had taken the day and made so much of it, and not only that, that people of every nationality and color seemed willing and able to join in the fun and celebrate with us, whether Catholic or no. They almost wept at that. Sometimes with all our own troubles we do not realize how luckly we are not to have some others in this melting pot of a nation, even if the soup is not yet evenly cooked.

I think they were more amazed by the neighborhood parade than the City parade, because, while at the time it was much smaller, not so far from its roots as a group of families marching their decorated baby strollers around the block on as St. Patrick's day weekend.

But here is the official history of the Parade as taken from the official parade webside:

History of the South Side Irish Parade

This is the story of how the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Parade began. As with many stories told by the Irish, exaggeration is inevitable, however, this story is completely true. The parade was the vision of two best friends, George Hendry and Pat Coakley. Both were raised on the South Side of Chicago, George in the St. Sabina Parish and Pat in the Little Flower parish in the Auburn neighborhood. The two did not meet until their early thirties, when both moved to the Morgan Park community with their young wives. There they became neighbors, best friends and in 1979, co-founders of the South Side Irish Parade.

In the winter of 1979, sitting around the Hendry’s kitchen table enjoying a few beers, George and Pat fondly remembered their experiences at the original South Side Irish Parade (aka the Southtown Parade) that was held on 79th Street. That parade moved downtown in 1960. It was at this time, while they were reminiscing, that George and Pat felt the obligation to create “something” for their children and the children of their friends and “green” neighbors. Nearly twenty years had passed, but now the South Side would rise again with a new parade in a new location for a new generation.

So on a rainy Saturday, March 17, 1979, George and Pat, with the help of their wives, Mary and Marianne (Mernie), gathered 17 children from the West Morgan Park community to march in the first South Side Irish St. Pat’s Parade. The children were the only marchers: Kevin Norris dressed as St. Patrick; Tim Kelly dressed as a leprechaun; Eileen Hughes was the parade’s first and only queen; a few Boy Scouts, including Jack and George Hendry and Pat and Kevin Coakley, carried the American flag; and the parade’s original float, a baby buggy covered with a box decorated with shamrocks and the 26 county flags of Ireland, was pushed around the 10900 blocks of Washtenaw and Talman. The children were given the moniker “The Wee Folks of Washtenaw and Talman”. The theme of the parade was “Bring Back St. Pat”, which was George and Pat’s way of saying bring back to the South Side the parade they had cherished as children. Notices of the parade which were placed in mailboxes along the “route” invited neighbors to stand on their porches and wave to the marchers. Immediately following the parade, the children were invited to the Hendry’s basement for Kool-aid and Twinkies. Later that evening, the adults continued the party in the Coakley’s basement until the “wee” hours.

Others noticed this small gathering and celebration in the community and so in 1980, the parade moved from the sidewalks to the side streets and began at Kennedy Park. Three hundred participants marched past friendly neighbors watching from their front yards and windows. Marchers included families with wagons, children on decorated bicycles, dogs, and a bag piper. The St. Cajetan School’s band sat in chairs in front of the Kennedy Park field house and played for the gathering crowd. The parade meandered through the neighborhood and ended at the Beverly Bank parking lot, where Terry McEldowney sang Irish songs for the crowd.

It was hard to believe, but the parade was gaining in popularity and George and Mary and Pat and Mernie decided it was time to take the parade to THE STREET. On Sunday, March 15, 1981 the parade would march down Western Ave. for the first time, where it continues to march today. Then-Mayor Jane Byrne would only provide a permit for the southbound lane of Western from 103rd Street to 115th Street, while live northbound traffic whizzed by in the opposite lane. The Chicago Police were ordered not to provide crowd and traffic control, but parade volunteers and a few crossing guards assumed the responsibilities and the parade marched on safely. The 1981 parade was a parade of “firsts” – traditions that continue today and without which the parade just wouldn’t be the parade. This was the year that St. Cajetan Church, the official parish of the parade, would celebrate with a Mass honoring St. Patrick. Following the parade, a party commenced in St. Cajetan’s Memorial Hall. It was named the Post-Parade Party, and the parade trilogy and unofficial motto, which referenced the three successive aspects of each Parade Day, was born: “Pray, Parade, and Party”. Today, many families in the area celebrate the day by attending a special Parade Mass, then gather along Western Avenue to watch the parade, and finally head home to host parties for family and friends. A number of neighborhood families also use this gathering day as an excuse for an annual family reunion. Another 1981 first for the parade was the use of a Grand Marshall. That year, three neighborhood children, Bess Hendry, Annie Coakley and Sean Crowe, were the parade’s first Grand Marshalls. All three were chosen to signify that the parade would be first and foremost a family affair.

With the success of the 1981 parade, it was apparent that George and Pat needed some help. They asked a few friends and local parishioners to get involved, and a committee was formed. Without the help of Fr. Marty O’Donovan, Mike Hayes, Jim Davoren, Bob Rafferty, Paul Poynton, Sean McCarthy, Bill Letz, Jack McNicholas, Dick Norris, Bill Gainer, Jim Sheridan and Bill Wallace in those earlier years, the parade wouldn’t be the success it is today. Currently, there are 26 committee members handling everything from logistics, float entries, sanitation and sponsorship to related events, PR/Media, marshals, bands and merchandising. Today, the South Side Irish Parade is considered the largest neighborhood-based St. Patrick’s Day parade outside of Dublin. It grew from 17 children marching around the block 27 years ago to an event that hosts over 15,000 marchers and 250,000+ spectators each year.

Each year after 1981, the official parade route has been from 103rd & Western to 115th & Western, and each year a Grand Marshall is chosen, often a charitable organization that is dedicated to children. Each year since 2004, the parade has also designated another organization as a Special Honoree, thus enabling the parade to highlight and honor two unique organizations each year.

The South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade was created for Pat and George’s children. Children, family, faith and heritage are what this great parade is all about!

So with grand weather, fine entertainment, and fun for all, you might want to drop by for a free fun family early afternoon. Afterwards you can stop by Border's Books and Music on 95th just East of Western to pick up Caryn Lazar Amster's book The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago, a must for those with roots in South Shore. Or visit one of the fine establishments West of Western once they re-open about two hours after the parade.

To find out more about the parade, or more pictures, just use the blue search box at the top of my blog, and if you are housebound, ABC is carrying it live on TV and the internet, just click the pipers above to go to their site.

Céad Míle Fáílte"

Irish Pete


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Blogger Mailyn said...

Happy St Patty's! I wish I could be in Chicago or NYC for the parade, they look to be a lot of fun! :)

3/17/2006 8:20 AM  

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