South Side Irish Parade returns after two-year hiatus: ‘We are normal finally!’

“God’s smiling on the South Side for this great coming out party,” Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters near the start of the parade route.

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The Float of the Misericordia during the South Side Irish Parade in Beverly, on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

The Float of the Misericordia during the South Side Irish Parade in Beverly, on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The South Side Irish Parade returned Sunday after the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration was upended by the pandemic for the past two years.

A day after the Chicago River was turned Kelly green ahead of the city’s larger St. Patrick’s Day Parade, bagpipers and marching bands provided the soundtrack for the revelers who lined Sunday’s parade route on Western Avenue in Beverly.

“God’s smiling on the South Side for this great coming out party,” Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters near the start of the parade route at 103rd Street.

“This is really a coming-together on the South Side in numbers that most people don’t even understand in other places,” Durbin said of the parade’s return. “[It’s] great to be in the spirit, the Irish spirit.”

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Sen. Dick Durbin speaks to reporters during the South Side Irish Parade in Beverly, Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Though many festival-goers pre-gamed at bars and neighborhood parties — and some drinking could be seen along the route — a more family-friendly atmosphere has replaced the debauchery and chaos of past incarnations of the parade.

Rhea Boldman, who lives in the area and has been coming to the parade since the early-1980s, complained that “busloads of people would come from the suburbs, get incredibly wasted and throw up all over everything.”

But now, Boldman noted, “It’s a fun day for all the kids.”

“All the yard parties are going on and everybody’s having fun,” she said with her daughter and grandkids in tow. “It’s like one big block party.”

The city’s slate of St. Patrick’s Day events were among the first major events canceled after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and normal life came screeching to a halt.

Bailey O’Connell was crowned queen of the South Side Irish Parade shortly before then and has remained royalty since. But after taking part in last year’s scaled-back festivities, O’Connell said she was excited to finally preside over the parade: “Today’s the day.”

Parade queen Bailey O’Connell waves to people in the crowd during the South Side Irish Parade in Beverly on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Parade queen Bailey O’Connell waves to people in the crowd during the South Side Irish Parade in Beverly on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“People are really happy that we’re back,” said O’Connell, who lives in nearby Mount Greenwood and works as a recreation supervisor in Tinley Park. “And especially with beautiful weather like this, we’re expecting a big crowd.”

Terri Smolka, who grew up in the neighborhood and now lives in suburban Hometown, said the parade marks her “first big outing” since the start of the pandemic, which forced her to take extra precautions because she has a compromised immune system.

“I can’t wait to hear the bagpipes. Let’s go,” Smolka said. “This is normal now. We are normal finally!”

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