The History of the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been an annual tradition for nearly forty years. It’s an expression of the pride and history of the South Side Irish, one of Chicago’s oldest ethnic communities. In fact, the tradition of a South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade is so strong and long-lasting that it has survived two attempts at relocation and cancellation.

south side st. Patrick's day parade Mayor Daley 1971
It may not be in a parade, but Mayor Daley was South Side Irish politico who was comfortable in the streets. Image via Wikimedia

The South Side Irish in Chicago

The Irish were the first major immigrant group to settle in Chicago. Laborers from Ireland emigrated to the area before the city was even founded in order to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Their nascent ethnic enclave community near the canal was originally named “Hardscrabble.” It eventually grew into the Bridgeport neighborhood, which is oldest neighborhood outside of downtown. You can explore more of the history of Bridgeport and South Side Irish on our Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Bus Tour or our Chicago Neighborhoods and Cultural Diversity South Side Tour.

From Bridgeport, the Irish community expanded into several distinct enclaves across the South Side. Because of endemic prejudice against the Irish in the 19th Century, the community remained tight-knit and clannish. These qualities, along with long-standing ties to the Chicago Democratic Machine and the police and fire departments, turned the South Side Irish into a potent political force. Both Mayors Daley and long-standing Speaker of the Illinois House Mike Madigan are members of the South Side Irish community.

South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade bagpipes
Bagpipers on the march. Image courtesy of the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade

According to an article on, there has been a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago since 1843. The parade centered around Old St. Patrick’s Church, in what is now the West Loop. Many of the parades and festivities would stay centered on the downtown area through the start of the 20th Century. In all likelihood, the South Side neighborhoods just didn’t have the infrastructure to handle huge public events like a parade.

The first South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in the Gresham neighborhood in 1951. By this time, the era of White Flight was underway and an ethnic celebration, like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, was likely seen as the sort of communal event that could hold a neighborhood together. This event, officially called the Southtown Parade, was a staple throughout the 1950’s. In 1960, Hizzoner Mayor Daley the First used his political clout to move the parade downtown and the South Side tradition temporarily ended.

The South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade was reborn on a very small scale in 1979. Two friends, George Hendry and Pat Coakley, recalled the Southtown Parades of their youths and decided to recreate it in Morgan Park. The initial parade featured only 17 marchers, all neighborhood children, but the idea quickly caught fire.

Outside a brief interregnum from 2009-12, the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade has run down Western Avenue in Beverly and Morgan Park since 1981. Over 200,000 spectators view the parade despite a strict prohibition on alcohol. Many attendees bookend the parade with mass at St. Cajetan Church beforehand and a house party afterwards.

The 2017 run of the parade kicks off at noon on March 12th. Have some fun if you head down to it!

-Alex Bean, Chicago Detours Content Manager and Tour Guide


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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