By Christine Smith
Dust off your greenest attire, lads and lassies. St. Patrick’s Day is upon us once again.
With the holiday under a week away, Chicago prepares to go Irish for the day when it hosts its 60th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade this Saturday.
A parade that first graced the streets of downtown Chicago in 1955 to promote the culture of one of the city’s largest immigrant communities, the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade has grown to include scores of high school bands from across the country, Irish dancers, an assortment of floats, musical leprechauns, and even the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
“We’re rockin’ and rollin’ here,” said Jim Coyne, who is the business manager of the parade’s sponsor, Chicago Plumbers Local 130 UA, and is this year’s parade chairman.
“It’s like when you plan a wedding,” he added. “It’s months and months of preparation…but it’ll be well worth it. We’re going to put on a great parade.”
And with roughly 138,000 current Chicagoans claiming some sort of Irish ancestry according to the most recent U.S. census, it is hardly surprising that many of this year’s parade participants have a strong connection to the city’s Irish community.
“I’m Irish and I love St. Patrick’s Day,” parade queen Lauren Corry said, “so to me it’s just important representing the Irish heritage and representing that Irish culture and being proud of where we came from…and celebrating that.”
The parade, which will begin at the intersection of Balbo Avenue and Columbus Drive and move six blocks north to Monroe Street, is expected to host more than 500,000 spectators and participants, including several high profile Illinois residents like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Sen. Dick Durbin.
However, the parade does more than draw in famous faces and celebratory Chicagoans: It showcases the growth of Chicago’s Irish community.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words,” said Mary McCain, a professor at DePaul University who specializes in Irish studies, “but to think of how far this immigrant group has come… . It’s not a unique situation in American history, but they put their own stamp on that immigrant story. It just all kind of comes together on St. Patrick’s Day.”
This year’s Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade is scheduled to take place on Saturday at noon. It will also be broadcast live for the first time on Chicago’s ABC7.