Imagine the chaos, mass intoxication and destruction of property at a once family-friendly event that has turned into a mosh pit of underage drinking and unacceptable behavior.
That is the essence of the South Side Irish Parade, held March 11, the Sunday prior to St. Patrick’s Day. It is a tradition that lived on throughout the city’s South Side neighborhood of Beverly dating back to 1979.
In 2009 the decision was made to cancel all future parades due to an abundance of complaints, around 50 arrests and many reports of public intoxication and disobedience.
After three years and much debate, the parade is returning but with stricter rules and an excessive amount of police, private security and volunteers keeping drinking under control and Western Avenue on lockdown.
Many bars and local businesses on Beverly’s main road are strongly supporting the parade’s triumphant return. Signs decorate windows and captions on bar storefronts say, “Tradition marches on” and “Support local business, support the Parade.”
The parade committee also held a fundraiser at the famous South Side restaurant and bar Bourbon Street Feb. 18 in hopes of raising around $60 thousand. The event attracted nearly 2,000 supporters, according to myfoxchicago.com.
“As a bar owner we are very thankful for the return of the parade,” said John Mulchrone, longtime Beverly resident and owner of Sean’s Rhino bar on 103rd and Western.” Aside from the revenue generated, which we appreciate, we have a blast every year, everyone seems to be in such a great mood and seeing everyone dressed in their finest knot sweaters and Donegal tweed hats sure makes you proud to be Irish,” Muchrone said.
Many of the bars along the parade route seem to share the same feelings as Mulchrone. Most know that the issue never was the bars. The parade problems extended far beyond what happened inside the local hangouts.
“Along with most of the bars, we are selling flags for $1,” said Justin Hooker a DePaul alumnus and bartender at the End Zone, 100th and Western. “You can donate the dollar and the proceeds go to extra security that the Chicago Police Department cannot supply.”
“It’s great for business, but this is definitely one of the neighborhood taps that is all tradition, and it’s definitely good to bring it back and keep the tradition going,” said Hooker.
Since the parade route has been shortened this year, once starting at 99th and Western and now beginning at 103rd, Cork and Kerry, one of the more popular bars is right in the middle of the mix.
“It is a giant moneymaker,” said Nick Guide, a bartender at Cork and Kerry for three years. “The owners like to promote and respect the Irish heritage of the neighborhood. It’s not just the money, it’s a giant tradition they’d like to bring back.”
Unlike many of the bars, restaurants and other businesses along the parade’s route on Western Avenue, the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods have mixed feelings about the return of the South Side Irish Parade. Despite promises by the parade’s committee to bring the event back to its family-friendly and alcohol-free state, residents remain skeptical.
“I certainly won’t be going or making a big homecoming out of the parade’s return,” said Laura Foley, a Beverly resident. “It seems to get worse every year with the drinking and fighting. It’s just not appealing for me as a parent or someone who has to live near the parade.”
Although it may be normal for parents to oppose the parade, it seems that even some of the Southwest Side’s younger residents don’t see anything special about having the parade back in town.
“I’ve been to the parade more times than I can count and when they took it away, I wasn’t really upset. Basically the people who want to celebrate and drink that weekend will find a way to do so, and whether it’s at the parade or at the bars along Western, it doesn’t really matter,” said Ed Carone, a Mt. Greenwood resident.
But just like the many businesses that will benefit from the parade’s return, some South Side residents are already welcoming the parade back with open arms. While the parade’s reputation will forever remain negative to some residents, still others enjoy the parade and see it as a tribute to their heritage.
“I moved here from Ireland 12 years ago and the music and Irish dance at the parade reminds me of home,” said Liam Griffin, a Mt. Greenwood resident. “Plus I like bringing my kids, so they can see some of their heritage. The Irish are a proud group of people.”
While opinions of the parade’s return continue to differ and while people may never agree, the South Side’s claim to fame is making a comeback.
This year is the parade’s time to shine and they have a chance to prove to Beverly residents and disputers that the once family-friendly event can return to its true roots.
“I hope that this parade showcases the pride, enthusiasm and spirit of the awesome people who live in our neighborhood,” said Mulchrone. “If we can pull together and be vigilant about not allowing some to ruin it all, I predict the parade will be a huge success and continue for many years.”