Chicago St. Patrick’s Day

chicago river dyed green for saint patricks day

Chicagoans call it “Irish Christmas,” but even if you’re only part Irish (the cute part), or not even a pinch Irish, you can still celebrate like your last name is Fitzgerald. Every year, thousands of people flock to the Windy City to celebrate the historic dyeing of the Chicago River, participate in one of the most popular parades in the country, and experience the Chi-rish spirit. But plan accordingly, because many festivities start early and occur the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day.

Green is the new black on St. Patty’s Day, so before hitting any of the proceedings, make sure your lads and lasses are dressed to impress with something green. My friends and I decided to make funky t-shirts from Strange Cargo. They offer “clothes, shoes and crap,” and with a slogan like that, who can resist? If you can’t go make your own, any green duds will do and the more you’re in the spirit the more you will be loved by street-goers.

Chicago is the only city that dyes their river the perfect shade of Irish Green. Although envied by many, the first occurrence was merely a happy accident. As legend has it, a man named Mr. Stephen Bailey and the Plumber’s Local Union #110 dyed the river fluorescent green when trying to locate a toxic leak. From there, the idea was born, and after testing many environmentally friendly vegetable oils, the perfect combination was found — all 40 pounds of it. Bailey convinced the mayor to dye the river, claiming it would create a mystical green path all the way to Ireland. Bailey declared,”the Chicago River will dye the Illinois, which will dye the Mississippi, which will dye the Gulf of Mexico, which will send green dye up the gulf stream across the North Atlantic into the Irish Sea, a sea of green surrounding the land will appear as a greeting to all Irishmen of the Emerald Isle from the men of Erin in Chicago land, USA.” Many can find just a bit of blarney in this story, yet it is still told year after year.

It has been over 40 years since the first celebratory dyeing of the Chicago River, and it now is one of the must-see attractions of the season! Small boats spill a deceivingly orange-colored dye into the river, and the water mystically transforms before onlookers into the perfect shade of shamrock green, suitably representing the colors of the Irish flag! The river is dyed east of Wabash Avenue and west of Columbus Drive. But as all veterans of the event know, the best perch for viewing is from the upper bridges on Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive. Next, shake your shamrocks at the world famous Chicago St. Pat’s Parade.

The City of Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest in the country and in 2011 celebrated its 53nd year. Following tradition, each year the city must select a Queen to lead the Parade. An honorary panel of Irish descendants appoint a new Queen, whom is lavishly awarded with gifts including a trip to Ireland for two. The Queen and her court perform special duties such as hand delivering cordial parade invitations to the Mayor of Chicago and other prestigious members of the city. Meanwhile, commoners daintily sipping Irish car bombs and sampling green beer await the grand parade. Thousands march each year, including politicians, bagpipers, Irish dancers, and other performers on gigantic floats. The parade begins at Balbo Avenue and Columbus Drive in Grant Park and marches north on Columbus to Monroe. For the super St. Patrick’s Day fans, there is a viewing stand located in front of Buckingham Fountain on Congress Drive. With Chicago’s extraordinary Irish-American population, the parade is always filled with Chi-rish spirit. From the parade, follow the ‘rainbow’ to a hidden tent filled with Irish cheer…

There is a place where frothy mugs overflow with green beer, the bona fide Irish décor surrounds you, and the sound of bagpipes fills the air; the self-serve popcorn machine isn’t too bad either. I couldn’t think of a better place to be on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day; located at 400 N. Mc Clurg Court is Lizzie McNeill’s, the only Irish pub on the Chicago River. Although Mc Clurg Court is the official address, this hidden jem is tucked along Streeterville’s back streets on East River Street. McNeill’s throws quite the shindig on St. Patrick’s Day – the large back patio holds a tent filled with music, Guinness, and grub. Enjoy the scenic green Chicago River and beguiling city backdrop while nibbling on authentic menu items such as corned beef and cabbage and washing it down with almost any type of beer your heart desires.

Whether you’re a seasoned Chicagoan or a first time visitor, after reading this article, you now have all the inside tips to make your next St. Patrick’s Day one to remember. So come out and celebrate Irish Christmas in cheeky green garb, watch the famous dyeing of the Chicago River, kick up your heels at the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and visit one of Chicago’s Irish Pubs. So, Happy Chi-rish Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Chicago River Dyeing
Location: Wabash Ave. & Columbus Dr.
Time & Date: 10:00 a.m. Sat. before St. Patrick’s Day
Price: Privately funded (free to the public)

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Location: Balbo Ave and Columbus Dr. (Grant Park)
Time & Date: 12:00 p.m. Sat. before St. Patrick’s Day
Price: Sponsored (free to the public)

About Natalie Scheid

When Mattel manufactures your idol and your nickname is Barbie life can get pretty unreal. My favorite activities include cheering on the White Sox (I’ve been converting Cubs fans since 1986), meeting new people and writing on the rooftop with the skyline as my backdrop. You might be able to find me at the opening of a new hot spot, soaking up some culture at a local museum or art show, or enjoying one of the cities fabulous festivals. So…. catch me if you can!

Leave a comment

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *