Chicago Tribune March 16, 1980
By Jack McGuire
On this day it is music. Not just the cornet in the parading high school band, but the deep, deep music of living, the inw- sd rhythms of eternity.
The Irishman hears the high song of the turning spheres, the dim lullaby of the worm in its cocoon. Al the world is in tune, and he is in step with the tune, the tune that only he can hear.
Whatever the purpose of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, it has not always been made clear to many of its participants.
No matter. They take it as a bachanalian postscript to a dreary winter. A triumphant assertion that, on this day above all, all things good and glorious —like the coming of spring itself— must indeed be Irish. Not a bad reason for holding a parade.
The official line, of course, is that the event is designed to promote fellowship among Americans of Irish ancestry as they observe a religious holiday sacred to every Irishman.
Thus the parade may be said to begin with the 10 a.m. mass—to be offered again this year as it has been in recent years by John Cardinal Cody—at Old St. Patrick’s Church on West Adams Street off the Loop, considered by many as the cradle of the Irish in Chicago.
And ask any Irish man, woman, or child marching in the parade or watching it what it s all about, and they’ll tell you it’s a celebration of the birth of Ireland’s patron saint, who drove the snakes off the Emerald Isle.
Actually, March 17 is the date of St. Patrick’s death, not his birth, which is obscured in ancient history. And historians tell us there really never were any snakes in Ireland In the first place.
May the bad fairies cast their evil spell upon them for raising such a notion.
But who cares? St. Patrick’s Day in the hands of the Irish is more a state of mind anyway than a historical observance.
St. Patrick, in fact, did convert Ireland from paganism to Christianity in the 5th Century. And if that’s not reason enough for celebration, Richard J. Daley at the beginning of his long and colorful reign as the patriarch of Chicago decreed that it was, and so it came to pass.
The idea as first expressed in the fall of 1955 was to reactivate an event that had last been held in 1896—an annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Loop. Never mind that the Irish of Chicago were already holding two St. Patrick’s Day parades in the city, one on the West Side and another on the South Side. Instead there would be a combined parade, a spectacle that would include marching bands, elaborate floats, skirting bagpipes, and celebrities, heroes, and politicians marching arm-in-arm with well-diggers, plumbers, carpenters, pipefitters, and electricians. And this parade will be held down State Street.
Beggin’ your pardon, your honor. No parade has ever gone down State Street. It would raise hell, what with the shoppers and all.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Chicago was held on March 17, 1843. It was a modest affair, representing the Irish of Chicago, who then numbered about 775. The marchers trooped down Clark Street with “Smiling John” Davlin as grand marshal and Capt. Patrick Kelly leading an Irish military unit known as the Montgomery Guards.
At Madison Street they turned east to Michigan Avenue. There they entered St. Mary’s Catholic Church for mass and a sermon by the Rev. Maurice de St. Paltais. Later there was a rally in the Saloon Building at the corner of Clark and Lake.
March 17, 1896
And so it went every year until 1896, after which year, for whatever reason, no St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in the Loop until Mayor Daley revived the idea some 50 years later.
At first, concerned State Street merchants raised objections, which were mouthed sotto voce behind the closed doors of private meeting rooms. The intrusion, they said, would interrupt the flow of shopper traffic and cut into the day s receipts. It was even suggested that there was an ancient ordinance that specifically forbade parades on the Great Street.
Such opposition, however, was easily overcome by Mayor Daley. The thornier problem was how to get the Irish of the West and South sides to forget about their cherished parades and instead join forces for one big downtown celebration.
The South Side Irish wouldn’t budge, but the West Siders came over to the mayor’s side with the help of Dan Lydon, then a young reporter for the West Side-based Garfieldian newspapers and the guiding force of the West Side parade. “If Mayor Daley was anything, he was persuasive,” recalls Lydon, who was given the role of parade coordinator, a position he still holds today.
A parade committee of Irish civic leaders, politicians, and clergy was soon formed. And with Daley as honorary chairman and Rear Adm. Daniel J. Gallery, a World War II hero who led the capture of the German submarine U505, as grand marshal, the stage was set for the announcement of a Loop parade. All that was needed was the proper peg to hang it on—a sound reason for holding it on State Street.
That peg was conveniently provided by Father Thomas P. Byrne, pastor of Old St. Patrick’s Church and the parade chaplain, when he announced plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish. “That’s it,” cried the mayor. “As part of the anniversary celebration, a St. Patrick’s Day parade will be held on State Street.”
On Saturday morning, March 17,1956, winter still held Chicago in its frigid grip. Lydon awoke after a few hours of fitful sleep in a Loop hotel to discover a blanket of newly fallen snow outside.
After a few attempts, he was able to reach the mayor by phone in his home. “Have you looked outside yet, Mr. Mayor?” Lydon asked.
“I’ve already had my breakfast and a stroll,” answered Daley. “It’s a grand day, thanks be to God.”
“But Mr. Mayor, there s four inches of snow downtown. Maybe we should postpone….”
“The parade will step off as planned. At 10 o clock.”
As they spoke, the city that worked was already working. An earlier phone call from Daley had activated a massive snow-removal operation, with every available piece of equipment manned by personnel from various city bureaus and departments converging on the Loop.
And indeed, by the stroke of 10, Daley’s command had caused a white sea of snow to part and provide a bone- dry corridor down which his chosen people could pass.
Mayor Daley leading the 1967 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The following year, 1957, the not-for-profit St. Patrick’s Day Committee was formed to administer the business of the parade and eliminate the possibility of undue political pressure on the event from City Hail. As parade coordinator, Lydon had to perform a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, he reported to the event s honorary chairman, Richard J. Daley himself, and on the other, to a group of Irish clubs and societies that had grown with Chicago.
Daley then called upon one of Chicago’s most distinguished business- men, William J. Haligan, to be chair- man of the parade. Hailigan was a Bostonian familiar with St. Patrick’s Day parades in that city.
And in 1958, Stephen M. Bailey, one of the city s most powerful labor leaders and a close personal friend of the may- or, became the parade s general chairman.
Along with the backing of both business and labor, Daley sought further support for his Loop parade by inviting other nationality groups to join the march. This new element infused the parade with a rhythm and flow as rest- less, contradictory, and pervasive as the Irish spirit itself.
Thus the parade, while remaining basically an Irish event, became a microcosm of Chicago’s multi-ethnic heritage and one of the city s most colorful civic events.
“This widespread participation above everything else assured the continuing success of the parade,” says Arthur L. Dunne, a judge of the Circuit Court and a former chairman of the board of the Irish Fellowship Club.
Dunne, who extends his judicial skills each year to act as a judge of the parade s queen contest and best-floats competition, goes on to say: “The heightened popularity of the St. Patrick s Day parade grew out of an in- creasing awareness and pride of people of all races in their cultural heritages. What happened was good for the Irish, good for those ethnic groups that joined them, good for all of us.”
As a special St. Patrick’s Day feature, The Tribune presents this map of Ireland, with many famous old Irish family names indicated as to its places of origin. When St. Patrick brought Christianity to the island in the 5th century it is probable that some of these old families already were there, altho reliable records date back only to as early as the 11th century. A majority of the best-known Irish names are shown on the map, in small italic type, and in the areas where the families dwelt hundreds of years ago, but certain omissions have been necessary because of lack of space. The name Jones is left out because the family by that name was scattered thru-out the whole island for many centuries.
Map by Edwin L. Sundberg
March 17, 1956
In 1961 the South Side Irish finally gave up their separate parade. Led by retired police captain William Hennessy, the leader of the South Side parade, they headed north to join forces with the Loop contingent.
There were still, of course, some stubborn holdouts, like the disgruntled South Sider who fired off a letter to The Chicago Tribune in which he blasted the Loop parade as a “political and union show” and vowed to boycott the affair.
That year saw 30,000 marchers along with 35 floats and 40 marching bands. There was also a gift from Albert Cardinal Meyer, then the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago. St. Patrick’s Day that year fell on a Friday, but he dispensed all Catholics from the obligations of the lenten fast and abstinence so they could enjoy corned beef and cabbage on that very special day.
Keeping a low profile, however, was Col. Jack “Mr. Parade” Reilly, the city’s director of special events, who had been removed from prominent involvement with the annual event ever since his monumental blunder of 1957.
On Jan. 11 of that year Reilly had written a letter under Daley’s City Hall letterhead to the commander of the Irish Regiment of Canada inviting “the Pipe Band and a composite unit of your battalion, probably of company strength,” to march in the Chicago parade.
Reilly neglected to inform the mayor about it, but Daley heard about it soon enough, and Reilly quickly found himself on the carpet: How, asked his angry boss, could a troop of British subjects be allowed to march in an Irish parade? The Canadians didn’t march.
While Reilly continued to be the leading organizer of the city’s other special events, he was allowed only a minor role in the annual St. Pat’s parade. So much so that one year he was said to have collared a policeman on parade duty to demand: “Who’s that little guy in the green sweater up there on the reviewing stand? Get him off.” And the officer had to explain to him that the object of Reilly’s myopic gaze was actor Mickey Rooney, guest of honor for that parade.
The year 1962 saw the start of one of the city’s more colorful St. Patrick’s Day traditions, the greening of the Chicago River in the downtown area. It all began in Bailey’s office when he saw a plumber whose white coveralls looked as if they had been tie-dyed with just the right shade of green. That was the year the city had begun to enforce water-pollution controls, and the plumber had been part of a crew pouring green dye into the city s waste systems to trace the flow of waste discharges. “Then,” the plumber explained, “we check at the river s edge to see where the water is turning green.”
Dyeing of the Chicago River Green for St. Patricks Day 2014
By Peter Tsai
Turning the water green! “Eureka,” exclaimed Bailey, and the next day Lydon and Chicago Port Director John Manley and his deputy, Bill Barry. were busy dumping a concoction of vegetable dye into the Chicago River. At first the result was a stream of vivid orange, leading Manley to exclaim, “The Orangemen have undone us!” But when the whirling propellers of their’ motorboat began to whip the preparation like a giant Mixmaster, the water finally took on a lovely shade of green.
One hundred pounds of the stuff was dumped that day into the water, and the river kept its green look for a week. After a series of yearly trial-and-error experiments, the current 40-pound formula was developed to produce a perfect hue of green that lasts four or five hours.
Soon the fame of Chicago’s parade, like the green dye in the river, began to spread. When parade officials heard a chance remark that New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade was better, they quickly dispatched an observer to the Big Apple. His report: “Theirs may be longer, but ours is better.”
Boston, too, had been known for its St. Pat’s Day parade, but when Roy Leonard, who was later to become a fixture on WGN Radio, saw his first Chicago parade in 1968, he sent a letter the very next day to Mayor Daley declaring that Chicago’s parade surpassed Boston’s premier Irish event that Leonard and his family had enjoyed for 10 years In their native city.
Then there were the two GI’s stationed in a remote region of Turkey who petitioned Daley for help in arrang- ing a Chicago-style St. Patrick’s Day parade there.
And a 19-year-old Dubliner, Michael O’Connor, confirmed Daley’s oft- repeated contention, “You can go anywhere in the world and hear tales of Chicago’s parade.” O’Connor, on a 13- month cycling trip around the world, heard about Chicago’s celebration during a stopover in Afghanistan. He made it to Chicago in time to ride his battered bike as a special guest of honor leading a parade he had heard about at the other side of the world.
Because the theme of the ’76 parade was “The Bicentennial and the Irish,” a Daley. subordinate got so bold as to suggest that the traditional green stripe painted on the State Street parade route should instead be red, white, and blue. The man was quickly banished from City Hall and was never seen there again.
The death of Mayor Daley cast a pall over the 1977 parade. But the sadness was as fleeting as a dollar bill in a Gaelic pub. The reality of death has always been part of Irish life, and the raucous ritual of the wake on the death of a loved one remains to this day something of an Irish social event.
“Losing Mayor Daley was a terrible blow, of course,” says Ed Brabec, business manager of the Chicago Plumbers Union and general chairman of the parade for the last seven years. “But he left a legacy, a strong tradition for the parade that will enable it to continue to thrive and grow.”
Brabec’s favorite St. Patrick’s Day story takes place on the morning of the first parade after Daley’s death, which became a memorial to the departed mayor.
There being a nip in the air and the parade still an hour away, a group of Irish lads all dressed up as Franciscan monks stop in a Clark Street bar for a wee bit of a splash.
Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1956
Each is carrying a placard with Daley’s image beaming benignly above the legend, “In Our Hearts and Minds Forever.” The “monks” play their role so well that, as they leave, a little old Irishman stops the last mourner in the line, slips him a dollar bill, and says, “Say a prayer for the repose of Hizzonor’s soul for me.”
At tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, for the first time in its history, a woman will lead the celebration. That, of course, will be Mayor Jane Byrne, who last year shared the reviewing stand with lame-duck Mayor Michael Bilandic; the Republican mayoral candidate, Wallace Johnson; and members of the Daley family.
This year the leading position is hers and hers alone.
The Windy City under Mayor Byrne is buffeted with many serious problems, and the people who make it work are in a splenetic mood, nursing old grudges and licking new wounds. But tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, a respite from winter s chill, a harbinger of spring. Chicago once again will be a city of born-again Irish falling into the rhythm of a new beat, marching together for—God and country—at least until the parade is over.
Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1890
There wilL be no general parade of Irish-Men St. Patrick’s Day this year. This decision was reached at the meeting of the Irish-American Council at Fitzgerald’s Hall, Halsted and Adams streets, yesterday afternoon.
The serious division in the ranks of the Irish-Americans, which has been widening instead of lessening ever since the dissensions prevented a parade a year ago, was shown in the attendance of delegates at the meeting. Instead of the hall being filled, the delegates formed a small group in the center of the room. Nor were they, few as they were, entirely harmonious. The shadow of the Clan-na-Gael conspiracy, which had caused the murder of Dr. Cronin and sent three ardent Nationalists to the Joliet Penitentiary, was there. The deep-seated factions had been made intense by the events since the meeting of the council a year ago. In place of a jolly time over a sharp contest for the honor of being Marshal of the parade March 17, which for many years had been the order of the council’s annual, there was in striking contrast with happier times before dissensions and rows had entered in.
John Foley was reelected President and Michael Fitzgerald Vice-President without opposition. Mr. Foley in acknowledging his reelection was silent upon the question of having a parade, the main purpose of holding the meeting.
Not so with Mr. Fitzgerald, who pronounced himself strongly in favor of a parade for the good of the Irish-American’s name.
THE TIME OF ALL TIMES.
“This is the time or all times, gentlemen,” said Fitzgerald, “for the Irishmen of Chicago to show the people of this city that they are united. In years gone by three halls wouldn’t hold the Irishmen who came to such meetings as this. This afternoon, where are they? I believe they are all afraid of Longenecker!”
Fitzgerald then tried to show bow important it was that a parade should be held March 17, just to prove to tne press and these people that we are alive and mean to stay alive.”
The speech was coldly received, particularly that part referring to a fear of State’s-Attorney Longenecker. The delegates were not disposed to make any attempt just now to “show they were alive.” To them it was mere important to forego the parade than to show their dissensions.
Delegate Flannigan of the O’Neill Club came to Fitzgerald’s support. He said he had “shouldered a pike for Ireland in 1867,” and “to shoulder a rifle for her some day.” He believed now was the time to begin anew the agitation for freeing the Emerald Isle from British rule.
Iho extended replies met either speech, but It was evident that the majority of the delegates bad made up their minds beforehand. As one of the speakers expressed it, tney teemed it advisable in the present crisis to celebrate the day at home.
The roll-call on the question whether to have a procession or not resulted in forty-eight votes against the procession and eighteen for it. Thirteen divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians cast thirty-two votes against and two for the procession; the Hugh O’Neill Club cast three votes for the procession; the Clan-na-Gael Guards, two for and one against. The other eleven votes in favor of a demonstration came from the Emerald Society, No. 4, the Hibernian Benefit Society, St. Aloysius’ Society, and the Men’s Sodality of St. Pius’ Church.
This settled the question so far as the council was concerned. Whether or not the societies voting for the Darade will have one by themselves is yet to be determined. Last year there was a small demonstration by the societies whose members could not brook the idea of a St. Patrick’s Day without a procession. The feeling among the defeated delegates was that the same course would be pursued this year, but the decision will rest with the societies at their next meetings.
NO TIME TO DISPLAY NATIONALITY.
The talk after the council had adjourned was much sharper than in the meeting. The delegates warmly discussed the situation, charges of cowardice made by those favoring the parade being met by retorts of being tools of professional Irishmen for profit only by those who had opposed it.
“You’ve been a Clan-na-Gael for years, and now you are afraid to own it,” said one councilman to a delegate near him.
The reply was lost in the tumult following the remark.
“This action today means,” said another delegate, “that professional leaders and agitators in this town will have to take a back seat. The honest Irish have sense enough to know and say that this is no time to make a display of our nationality.”
Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1897
CELEBRATION OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Principal Event Will Be the Entertainment in the Evening at Central Music Hall—The Program
Sons and daughters of Erin, loyal to St. Patrick’s day will throng Central Music Hall this evening to listen to Irish music, oratory and song. Col. M. Kavanagb, of the Seventh Regiment, I. N. G., will be the Chairman of the meeting and make tha opening address. Prof. Austin O’Malley of the University of Notre Dame will deliver an address on “Irish Heroic Poem,” and Hugh O’Neill of the Chicago bar will deliver an oration on “Ireland and Liberty.”
Besides the addresses a carefully prepared program by some of Chicago’s best musicians will be presented. The guiding mar of tho entertatlnment Is the Rev. B. P. Murray of St. Bernard’s Church.
The St. Patrick’s day procession, so familiar In former years, will not appear on the streets this year. Tho day, however, will be celebrated by all the children of tho Emerald Isle In the different Catholic Churches and by entertainments in almost every section of the city.
Special St. Patrick’s day matinees will take place at McVlcker’s Theater today, when “Shamus O’Brien” will bo presented by tho Irish company playing there, and at the Columbia Theater, where “Brian Boru,” taking Its title from the Irish hero, will also he given.
Chicago Examiner, March 17, 1909
TAFT OPENS ARMS TO-DAY TO TAFT AND SPIRIT OF ST. PATRICK
President the Chief Figure in a Record-Breaking Celebration in Honor of Ireland’s Patron Saint; Whirl of Engagements Confronts the City’s Guest.
William Howard Taft, President of the United States, and the memory of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, will be jointly honored in Chicago to-day at a celebration iu charge of the Irish Fellowship Club.
The President will reach Chicago at 7:45 a. ni. to-day over the Pennsylvania Lines as the guest of the club, and from the moment of his arrival until his departure at 11 o’clock to-night a rapid-fire succession of receptions, a luncheon, a public meeting and a banquet will be given in his honor.
Mr. Taft is scheduled to make two set speeches and the various receptions will give him an implied invitation to make at least three more. The only function open to the general public is the eonserva- tion meeting at the Auditorium Theater, where Mr. Taft will speak at 3 p. m., and there the demand for tickets has greatly exceeded the supply.
If any seats are unoccupied at 3 o’clock the general public will be admitted to them.
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS TO VIEW PARADE.
For the men and women, however, whose names do not adorn the membership lists of clubs and societies which will entertain the President, the fleeting glimpse of the chief executive as he rides in his automobile from the temporary station of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Thirty-third street to the Hotel La Saile offers almost the only opportunity to see “Bill” Taft and his famous smile.
Hundreds of thousands of Chicago’s citizens are planning to take advantage of this opportunity to see and cheer the President. The John Joneses and the William Browns will line the route of the parade, and it is expected the President will move between two lines of humanity waving the American flags and the green emblem of Erin from Thirty-third street all the way to his hotel.
Every preparation is complete to make this the most notable St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago’s history. Everywhere the red. white and blue will be intertwined with green. Favorite airs of old Erin will alternate with the strains of the patriotic airs of the United States in the music of the bands. The Irish flag and the Stars and Stripes will form pendants in the decorations and the President may wear the shamrock.
– A Chicago cop during the last quarter of the 19th century was also the foremost expert on Irish songs.
O’Neill’s Music of Ireland: Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Melodies : Airs, Jigs, Reels, Hornpipes, Long Dances, Marches, etc., Many of Which are Now Published for the First Time.
Lyon & Healy