Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Past Chicago Catholic Examiner columns have looked at the real meaning of the holiday and who St. Patrick actually was (namely, a fourth century Catholic saint who converted the Irish people from paganism to Christianity) But how did St. Patrick’s Day become such a huge thing in Chicago? Lets take a look.
Chicago has many customs associated with St. Patrick’s Day, like the annual tradition of dyeing the Chicago river green, and having no less than two St. Patrick’s Day parades – one downtown through Chicago Loop and the bigger, better known South Side Irish parade.
Irish Catholics have been a notable presence in the city since the 1840s, and numerous unofficial St. Patrick’s Day gatherings have been held since then. Still, the city’s first official St. Patrick’s Day parade was started until 1956, under the first Mayor Richard J. Daley. The tradition of dyeing the river green is something only found in Chicago, and it was started in 1961 by business manager Stephen Bailey of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 110. Bailey discovered a pair of white coveralls had accidentally been stained a bright emerald green, like the color of St. Patrick’s Day. When Stephen Bailey asked how the coveralls got this way, that they discovered that the dye used to detect leaks into the river turned green, not just any color green, but the perfect color green. Journeymen Plumbers Local 110 was given the task of dyeing the entire river green for the holiday, and they continue to do this today. Finally, Chicago’s prominent South Side Irish parade was originally started as a “local neighborhood festival” in 1979. Word of mouth spread and it became bigger and better every year, as well as more rowdy and out of control. 2009 was thought to be the final year of the South Side Irish parade, when it was announced there would be no 2010 South Side Irish parade due to safety concerns. But the parade was eventually brought back by popular demand, and security measures and new rules were put in place to ensure it returned to its roots as a family friendly event.
Today, there is little doubt that Chicago’s Irish Catholics are among the best known and most widely celebrated ethnic Irish community in the United States. Here’s to you, Irish Catholics of Chicago!