St. Patrick’s Day parade steps off in Chicago’s Loop with bagpipes, politicians

CHICAGO — St. Patrick’s Day festivities returned to Chicago on Saturday, bringing young families, couples and college students downtown for the historic river dye and parade.

Thousands of spectators decked out in their best green attire stood behind police guardrails blocking off the parade route on Columbus Drive between Balbo Drive and Monroe Street.

The theme of the 68th annual parade — sponsored by Chicago Plumbers Local 130 UA — was “Recognizing Workers Rights.”

First responders did their best to guide the crowds into position while police horses with green bows stood watch.

For some families, this was the first time their children experienced the parade.

“We’re just excited to see what we’re going to see,” Corrinna Rocha said. “We don’t know what to expect.”

She and her daughter Madeline live in Chicago but COVID-19 and other life events have made this Madeline’s inaugural St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“I like the horses, and I’m excited,” Madeline said. She declined to give the Tribune her age.

Bagpipes playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” signified the beginning of the parade. Then followed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. J. B. Pritzker and mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson. Paul Vallas, another mayoral candidate, was also on hand.

While most people attending the parade are only Irish for the day, for some this day runs deep, said Christian Baker, who is originally from England and his wife Sarah Geraghty, originally from Ireland. They live in Chicago now.

“We always think it’s such a great atmosphere on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago,” Geraghty said. “We’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else we’ve been.”

Geraghty added that tales of Chicago’s celebrations are told far and wide.

“I think the whole world knows,” she told the Tribune. “It’s seriously got an amazing reputation around the world as one of the best places to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.”

Before the parade was the famous river dye to kick off the day. By 9 a.m., Wacker Drive and the North Side river esplanade between Columbus Drive and Orleans Street was filled shoulder to shoulder as locals and tourists got in position.

An hour later, members of the Chicago Plumbers Local 130 Union zigzagged their skiffs from bank to bank, dumping red powder into the murky green waters, giving the iconic Chicago River a neon green glow that lasts for 48 hours. People come from far and wide to see the plumbers do their work.

“It reminds us of a Brazilian carnival,” Renato Arrudo said, translating for the group. Arrudo is here to study at Northwestern University.

A Brazilian native, he had to bring his family and friends out to see one of the biggest days in the “beautiful city of Chicago.”