Courtesy of the south Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade committee
Many St. Patrick's Day parades are ovehauling their images, promising family-friendly, alcohol-free atmospheres instead of the traditional ale and antics.
St. Patrick's Day is better known for green beer and rowdy behavior than family fun. But with aging Irish baby boomers who want to share their family roots, the parades are working on G-ratings and trying to change the image of the hard-drinking, fighting Irish. "It's not true-we're a higher class of people than that," says Bill King, an organizer for Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade. The parade, always a stop for national and local politicians before an election primary, is a tradition more than 75 years old. The event starts at 10:45 a.m. when the Chicago River is dyed green. The parade, which will include more than 60 floats and several thousand marchers, dancers and bands, steps off at noon. And, King says, the police will be cracking down on the rowdy behavior. The South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade is in its 25th year. Organizers say the parade is the largest community St. Patrick's Day parade outside of Ireland. And they do consider themselves family friendly-which means no booze. The parade began in 1979 with 17 children from West Morgan Park who pushed a baby buggy decorated with the county flags of Ireland. They circled the block twice. Pat Coakley, one of the original 17 and this year's parade chairman, says, "It's still very much a family-oriented parade." Coakley expects 200,000 people to turn out for this year's parade, and the 100 entrants will include a festive stream of bagpipes, Irish dancers, Irish Setters and Wolfhounds, green and orange floats and, of course, the original baby carriage. But all who walk the dozen blocks down Western Avenue from 103rd to 115th streets are required to sign a pledge to respect an audience of families and children. No alcohol and no electioneering. Those who violate the rules are banned from ever again marching in this event. It's a noble idea. But parents should remember those on the sidelines have not signed pledges. So, you may find yourself moving the children to escape from the imbibing fans. For South Side parade information, call (773) 239-7755 or visit www.southsideirishparade.org. For the route and information on the St. Patrick's Day in downtown Chicago, call (312) 942-9188 or visit www.chicagostpatsparade.com.