CHICAGO (CBS) — After popular demand, a South Side tradition has returned. The South Side Irish Parade kicked off Sunday morning, after a two-year hiatus.
This year, there were some major changes to ensure a family-fun atmosphere, unlike three years ago when crowds got so out of control that organizers decided to stop holding the annual parade.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the parade also included a heartfelt goodbye to a South Side hero.
Modie Lavin, the mother of the late Marine Cpl. Conner Lowry, cut the ribbon to kick off the restart of the South Side tradition. Lowry, a Beverly neighborhood native, was killed in combat in Afghanistan earlier this month and was laid to rest on Saturday.
Family and friends said Lowry was a very proud South Side Irishman and was one of the biggest fans of the Beverly neighborhood’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Lowry’s friend, Jim West, said, “he loved this parade, and every year he came up here, and the great part of this parade, every year with all of his friends.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Michele Fiore reports
The South Side Irish Parade returned Sunday, after a two-year hiatus prompted by complaints about drunken behavior and violence.
First-time parade goer Bob Brosmore said, “Glad they brought it back, you know, glad they brought it back.”
Compared to 2009, the parade looked and felt significantly different. The crowd was much smaller and quieter than the last few years before it was shut down. It looked and felt significantly different.
In the last few years before the hiatus, the parade had become such a popular drinking event that it drew of more than 300,000 people, including many underage drinkers and college students who bused in from around the state.
Sunday’s crowd was far smaller. Organizers estimated 150,000 people attended the parade, about 80 percent of them from nearby communities. They also estimated about half the crowd was school-age children.
Margaret Murray said this year’s parade was much calmer and more family-friendly.
“This year is very calm,” she said. “It’s just, it’s quieter. The people are more calmer. It’s a lot friendlier. It’s good.”
The parade started in 1979 as a small St. Patrick’s Day parade organized by a group of Beverly and Morgan Park residents, and the only marchers were local children.
It gradually grew in size and popularity over the years until many compared the atmosphere to Mari Gras. After the 2009 parade, organizers shut down the parade because of dozens of arrests, many for violence. Local residents said the underage drinking and rowdiness had grown out of control.
The biggest difference this year was that organizers committed to a zero-tolerance on alcohol. No alcohol was permitted outside of the bars along the parade route and North Side bars were even contacted and urged not to send chartered buses to the parade.
Organizers also hired private security to set up checkpoints to make sure parade goers don’t walk up with open alcohol containers. Several hundred security guards and police were in place before and during the parade, just in case.
Paul Gerlach, a security guard with S3 Security, said “I think that a lot of the press and a lot of the information that got out about no alcohol really helped a lot. We see a lot of families out here, instead of a lot of young drinking groups.”
McMcClory said he started coming to the parade when he was a child and he was glad he could feel safe bringing his own children to the parade this year.
“I started coming here since when I was, maybe, 7th grade, or something like that. It’s so much nicer now. I haven’t seen one person with a beer. It’s very … well behaved,” he said.
His son, Sean McClory said what he liked about this year’s parade was, “it brings families together.”
“Hopefully my grandkids, his grandkids, hopefully it goes on for a long time,” his father added.
Deana Segreti brought her children from Lake Zurich for their first visit to the parade
“My parents have been living in the neighborhood for 24 years and I never missed it,” she said. “This is the first year that I’ve brought both of my kids to the parade.”
Now she’s passing a favorite childhood memory to her kids.
“I want to carry on tradition, since my parents brought me, and I wanted to bring my kids,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, and we’re having a great time, and its beautiful day.”
For parade goers, it didn’t matter that there were fewer floats and performances at this year’s parade, making it much shorter than in years past, at just over an hour long.
Even so, there was lot of excitement in the air.
“It’s just a lot of fun and people just love it,” said one of the children on float from St. Linus in Oak Lawn.
All the children said they hope to be back next year.
Chicago police said that, as of mid-afternoon Sunday, there had been no arrests reported at the parade, unlike 2009, when there were 54 parade-related arrests.