Unlike a year ago, members of the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee are breathing a bit easier these days.
Last year, they were nervous as the parade returned after a two-year absence, having been put on hiatus because of unruly and drunken behavior.
Organizers didn’t know what to expect. But after the reborn parade went off without a hitch, those planning Sunday’s event expect more of the same.
“Things have been going exceptionally well. It’s shaping up nicely. The neighborhood definitely supports the parade in the manner in which it returned, and we’re looking to do more of the same this year,” said Joe Connelly, co-chairman of the parade committee.
About 50,000 lined Western Avenue in Chicago’s 19th Ward to watch the parade last year, and another 150,000 or so came to the neighborhood for family parties and other events, Connelly said. A similar crowd is expected Sunday, he said.
Those who come out will see a parade with more than 90 entries. The parade has long been about family and community, Connelly said. With that in mind, this year’s grand marshal will be the police and firefighters who protect our communities.
Parade organizers say it’s a fitting choice because two firefighters and a police officer from Chicago died in the past year. The families of firefighter Walter Patmon Jr., fire Capt. Herbie Johnson and police officer Michael Flisk will march at the front of the parade.
“It will be a very moving start to the parade. It’s not somber, though. It’s a celebration,” parade spokeswoman Ellyn Caruso said.
Uniformed police and firefighters will follow the families and will pause and salute when they pass King-Lockhart Memorial Park. Fifteen years ago, firefighters Patrick King and Anthony Lockhart died fighting a fire in a tire store on the current site of the park, 10615 S. Western Ave.
The parade begins at noon at 103rd Street and Western Avenue, marching south to 115th Street. As in past years, the parade Mass will be said at St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church, 2445 W. 112th St., in the Morgan Park community. First responders will be honored at the Mass, which will feature Irish music, Caruso said.
Since last year, and unlike in previous parades, there’s a zero-tolerance policy regarding drinking booze in public along the parade route.
The minimum fine for adults will be $500 for drinking within 800 feet of the parade. The maximum fine has doubled to $1,000. The alternative to the higher fine? Six months in jail.
With about 200 portable toilets along the parade route, there’s no reason for anyone to relieve themselves in public, officials said. Besides, doing so could result in fines and five to 10 days behind bars.
“We have the same plan as last year. And we’ve worked closely with the Chicago police, southwest suburban police and Metra,” Connelly said. “We feel our plan is a good one, and we expect it to be effective, but what will make the parade is the residents supporting what we are doing. The responsibility falls back upon the residents (to enforce the drinking ban).
“If people want to go back to family parties and local establishments and have their fun (after the parade), we’re all about that. But on the parade route itself, we need to provide a safe family environment,” he said.
There will be parking restrictions so emergency vehicles can access the parade route if needed. There will be no parking from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday on the east side of Artesian Avenue between 103rd and 111th streets and on the west side of Claremont Avenue from 103rd to 107th streets. Parking is also banned on cross streets between Artesian and Claremont from 100th to 114th streets.
Organizers are still selling $50 raffle tickets to help defray the $200,000 cost of presenting the parade. The grand prize of $10,000 would make any leprechaun green with envy.
Free shuttle buses will again be offered for those attending the parade, as well as the Irish parades in Oak Forest and Tinley Park this weekend.
A spokeswoman for Miller Lite, which is sponsoring the buses, said they will be offered from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday for the South Side Irish Parade.
The shuttle buses will run from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday during the Oak Forest Fleadh and from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday for the 14th annual Irish Parade in Tinley Park, which starts at 2 p.m. along Oak Park Avenue.
-- Southtown Star
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