Not even a knee replacement could stop Pat Duignan from marching in the
The 74-year-old parade veteran plodded along 12 blocks of South Western Avenue in Chicago on Sunday wearing her signature
"I can still do it," the retired nurse said at the end of her march through the Beverly and Morgan Park communities. "It's lots of fun."
This was the second parade since police arrested 54 people in 2009 when the event spawned a drunken melee. This year, Chicago police blanketed the 1.5-mile route with at least a dozen officers on most blocks.
The zero-tolerance approach to alcohol possession and public urination seemed to work. No arrests had been reported by 5 p.m., Officer Daniel O'Brien said. Two citations were issued: one for operating as an illegal vendor and another for possession of cannabis.
After a two-year hiatus, a scaled-down version of the parade returned last year to the heavily Irish area of the Far South Side. Kevin Coakley, one of the event's co-chairmen, said the 90 entries this year marked about a 20 percent increase over 2012 but a drop from the 125 or so groups that marched four years ago. Organizers and police estimated that 150,000 people watched the parade.
The entrants included typical parade fare — high school marching bands, a state champion football team, waving dignitaries — with a distinctive Irish accent. Before the event started, the Chicago police and fire departments' bagpipe groups found shelter from the rain under an awning outside a Little Caesars pizza parlor. Nearby, riders placed green saddles on horses and a herd of Irish wolfhound owners gathered with their giant dogs that, at a distance, could be mistaken for horses.
Many marchers and onlookers came decked out. Spectator Darrell Schuyler's get-up, a plaid kilt with generous helpings of green beads around his neck, looked like a mix of
"If you're gonna go," Schuyler said, "go all the way."
Some spectators guessed that the turnout would have been higher without an ominous forecast and an hour of sleep lost to the conversion to daylight saving time. The crowd appeared sparse just before the parade started, but thousands of late-arriving viewers streamed out of nearby bars and homes once the first marchers stepped off from 103rd Street and Western Avenue.
Despite predictions that an inch or more of rain could fall Sunday, morning showers passed before the noon start. That was a relief to the troupes of Irish dancers who pranced down the parade route wearing wool dresses and curly wigs. Dancer Marisa Hanlon, 16, said rain could give the dresses a foul smell and damage the distinctive hairpieces. She said members of her troupe, Trinity Irish Dancers, had ponchos at the ready, along with wig covers that looked like oversized shower caps.
Maureen McKenna's 4-year-old daughter was one of dozens of Trinity dancers riding on a float in full costume. Older kids danced in the street or on a stage at the rear of the float.
McKenna, a former Irish dancer herself, said the parade is a way for her family to stay connected with its roots.
"It's like a big family," the South Side native said. "It's very important just to keep up the tradition so it doesn't get lost."
Honoring those traditions is the reason for the parade, Coakley said. The 40-year-old marched in the first South Side Irish Parade in 1979 as a child, and he said keeping the atmosphere fun for kids is a focus as organizers move on from the 2009 brawl.
The culture change seems to be sticking. A walk up and down the parade route revealed only one man sipping on a Miller Lite. Other than that, lattes and Red Bulls were the strongest drinks on the streets.
Duignan, the 74-year-old leprechaun with the artificial knee, said the crackdown on inebriated patrons has helped restore the original spirit of the parade.
"I'm so glad it's back to the family tradition," Duignan said.
With the parade over, she was racing off to her own family tradition. The Duignan clan was gathering for a post-parade feast of corned beef sandwiches, soda bread and beer.