South Side Irish Parade draws thousands

March 9, 2008 8:49:00 PM PDT
St. Patrick's Day is more than a week away, but Chicago's South Side Irish got a head start Sunday thanks to the Holy Week calendar.Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. So, 300,000 people gathered for the 30th annual parade today.

The South Side Irish Parade was dreamed up by two best friends while they were enjoying as few beers. George Hendry and Pat Coakley felt the obligation to bring a St. Patrick's Day parade back to the South Side for their children.

The parade has grown from 17 children marching around the block to an event with thousands of marchers and spectators.

No St. Patrick's Day parade is complete without bag pipers, and Sunday's did not disappoint. The parade on the South Side also included a Superman with a green cape.

The parade down Western Avenue is considered the largest St. Patrick's Day neighborhood parade outside of Dublin. Thousands lined the street for the parade, which has been a family tradition since 1981.

"I love to see the camaraderie and the love that just emanates from everybody on this day," said one woman attending the parade.

"This is my 21st parade, and I was just telling my friends that when my daugher was born in February [one year], I was still out here in March for the parade," said Kathy Sulski. "We've been bringing the kids since they were liitte."

The kids love the parade, as well.

"I love the colors, everything all about it. I love it," a young Kaitlyn Fetchko told ABC7 Chicago.

Dogs loved the parade, too. Whether it was a store bought coat or some green food coloring, every pooch and parade goer became visibly Irish on Sunday.

"I'm not even Irish. Everybody comes out. Doesn't matter, Irish or not," said one parade goer.

ABC7 Chicago's Linda Yu joined Joel Daley, Jerry Taft and others on the television station's parade float, which was one of dozens that entertained the proud crowd.

But, one Irishman told ABC7 Chicago it doesn't take a parade to be reminded of your heritage.

"You always have Irish pride. That's 365 days a year. That's not just one day," said Mike Finn.

It is a South Side Irish Parade tradition to attend mass before the big event. Then, the parade is always followed by neighborhood parties, which is why the unofficial motto for the day is, 'Pray, parade and party.'

Since 1981, a grand marshal is chosen for the festivities, but it is a charitable organization dedicated to children instead of a person. This year, the grand marshal was the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.