I'm a South Side newcomer and, therefore, I don't have 50 years (or whatever it is) of history that was disrupted three years ago when the Chicago South Side Irish parade was cancelled. As far as I can tell, the parade met its demise because of public drunkenness, public urination, fights, vandalism and general public misbehavior that parade organizers could no longer control. Nevertheless, after a renewed and refocused organizing effort, a committee of residents revived the parade and it kicked off today between 103rd and 115th Streets on Western Avenue in the Beverly neighborhood.
Reviving the parade was not as easy as it might seem since City officials granted the parade permit, but required assurances and guarantees (read: financial backing) that the problems that existed in the past would not recur for the "new" South Side Irish Parade. Political infighting ensued as the area's Alderman, Matt O'Shea, was not initially in support of the parade while his relatives, led by former Mayor Richard M. Daley aide, James "Skinny" Sheehan, supported the parade and were members of the organizing committee. Ultimately, the politics were resolved with the organizers and sufficient plans were made for security, the parade route was shortened and the number of floats was reduced. All in all, the parade was billed as "family friendly."
Even my people were represented:
Let's just say this: The 2012 South Side Irish Parade was a rousing success. As I walked the parade route, I saw a total of one green plastic Solo cup and assumed that the guy carrying it had buttermilk in there, not beer. Moms, dads, grandparents, kids were all enjoying themselves. While the younger people were loud at times, there was no overt drunkenness, no one peeing in public, and no one acting like a fool. There were parade marshalls everywhere and police patrolled the parade route and the neighboring streets to such an extent that I felt safer than I had on any day on the south side over the past two years.
Not only was the security impressive, but a fleet of street cleaning trucks appeared within minutes of the parade's conclusion to swab the asphalt which was followed by a busload of Sheriff's Office-controlled prisoners armed with rakes, brooms and leaf blowers to clean off the sidewalks. It sure was nice to see our government's services out in such force. (Would the cynic in me wonder if Sheriff Dart's and Commissioner Daley's close ties to the parade neighborhood have anything to do with the well-timed and efficient show of County and municipal services?) But, if it's a parade in Chicago, certainly there had to be representation during the parade of politicians and government officials. Judicial candidates, County and City officials, and bagpipers from the Police and Fire Departments were well-represented.
On a beautiful March day in Chicago, as the winter turns to spring and people along a parade route cheer the passing floats, banners also flew near 104th Street and Western honoring Marine Corporal Connor Lowry, a Brother Rice High School graduate who was killed in Afghanistan and who was laid to rest yesterday. Corporal Lowry's memory seemed to drift along Western Avenue as a reminder that we do need protection, whether along a parade route or thousands of miles away in a country most of us will never visit. Corporal Lowry's brother stated in his eulogy:
“If the Army and the Navy ever look at heaven’s scene, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marine. Keep the streets of heaven safe and say hello to everyone. We will miss you greatly. You will be in our hearts forever.”
What a fine day and parade it was today and, politics and cynicism aside, a tribute to what our city can be.
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