The ABCs of the South Side Irish Saint Patrick’s Day Parade
By Bob Rakow For Sun-Times Media
Showing the colors: An excited Amber Richard, of Burbank, smiles near the start of last year's South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
If you go ...
What:South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade
When:Steps off at noon on March 10. The parade should run approximately two hours.
Where: The parade starts at 103rd Street and Western Avenue, then proceeds south along Western Avenue to 115th Street.
More information: www.southsideirishparade.org. Keep up with the parade also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/southsideirishparade and Twitter at twitter.com/SSIrishParade.
When Joe Connelly reflects on last year’s South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the only negative feedback he recalls was that the event was too short.
The success of the 2012 parade was critical to organizers who proposed returning the event to the Beverly community following a two-year hiatus.
A neighborhood tradition for decades, the parade was cancelled after the 2009 edition, which included 54 arrests, most of them for drunken and disorderly behavior. What started as a quaint family event in 1979 had become an embarrassing disaster.
But organizers supported the return of a family-friendly oriented parade that celebrated Irish culture and its roots in the Beverly community. They implemented a strict security plan and zero-tolerance alcohol policy and enhanced police presence with security officers.
The parade came off without a hitch as more than 150,000 spectators lined Western Avenue to view bands, Irish dancers and other attractions along the parade route, said Connelly, co-chairman of this year’s parade.
Not everyone supported the parade’s return, but they’re back on board this year, Connelly said.
“We have everyone’s buy-in,” he said. “Opponents’ minds were changed. It has been easier, from our perspective, (because) we have the support of the neighborhood.”
The day of the parade, March 10, starts off with Mass in honor of St. Patrick at 9 a.m. at St. Cajetan Church, 2445 W. 112th St., a tradition that began in 1981.
About 30 entries have been added to the 2013 parade (for a total of approximately 100 entries), which should lengthen the time to about two hours, Connelly said.
Some grand Grand Marshals
Recently fallen first responders from the local area, including Chicago Fire Department Captain Herbie Johnson, Chicago Firefighter Walter Patmon Jr. and Chicago Police Officer Michael Flisk, also will be honored.
The parade also will honor several local high schools teams who recently have won state championships, including the Brother Rice High School rugby team, the Marist High School softball team, the Mount Carmel High School football team, the Leo High School track and field team and the St. Rita High School hockey team.
Several Irish clans, local parishes, high school bands, area schools and non-profit organizations also will participate in the parade.
For the first time, the parade will have a queen, Margaret McGann, 24, of Palos Heights.
Some minor adjustments were made to this year’s parade, including starting at noon instead of 11 a.m. to appease local churches, add an Emerald Isle Mile fun run on the parade route that morning and pay private security to stick around later, Connelly said.
Keeping it safe
Elements of this year’s security plan include:
Fines for open alcohol will be strictly enforced throughout the Beverly community.
Security checkpoints will surround the parade.
Passengers will be banned from bringing alcohol on Metra Rock Island trains on parade day.
North Side bars have been contacted and discouraged from chartering buses to the area.
Buses that come into the area will be directed to specific drop-off/pick-up points designated by the Chicago Police Department.
Parking restrictions will be enforced on residential streets near the parade route.
Despite the parking restrictions, there will be ample parking for parade-goers throughout the Beverly community, Connelly said.
Connelly said he is excited to see the parade return because it’s the centerpiece of a daylong celebration for the community.
“You see lots of smiling faces and everyone dressed in green,” he said. “It definitely creates a boost in morale. A lot of the fun of the parade isn’t the parade itself.”
He added that the parade helps showcase the community, and businesses thrive on the influx of people who attend the event.
Parade enthusiasts who want to get ready for the big day ahead of time can visit the South Side Irish Parade store, 10934 S. Western Ave.The store has 2013 parade T-shirts on sale as well as 2012 parade T-shirts available at discounted rate of $10. The parade store winter hours are noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
The parade, which first took place in 1979, is considered the largest neighborhood-based St. Patrick’s Day parade outside of Dublin.