By Kimberly Bellware
Irish Bagpipe Band the Shannon Rovers has been part of Chicago’s rich Irish tradition since the ‘20s. Originally organized “for the promotion of Irish music and to help members who are in distress to run dances and social affairs to finance these objectives” (per meeting minutes from the 1930), today the group is 70-plus members strong and has become a staple of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Green beer and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirts are easy enough to come by during the holiday honoring the patron saint of Ireland, so we asked the Rovers to share how they celebrate St. Patrick’s day in Chicago.
Members of the Shannon Rovers–like thousands of Chicagoans–angle for a spot along Michigan and Wacker Drive to have the best view of the annual river dyeing. Once the Mayor tints the Chicago River an emerald hue, the band hurries to get in line before the St. Patrick’s Day Parade steps off at noon.
The band is a regular draw at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade (S. Columbus Drive from E Balbo to E Monroe), having been part of the tradition since the city’s first parade in 1956. The Shannon Rovers march with their pipes and drums, usually playing their signature set, ‘Garryowen’, ‘O’Donnell Abu’, and ‘Wearing of the Green.’ For the parade, the Shannon Rovers dress in full regalia; current Shannon Rovers member Brian Giblin explains, “Our group wears the Kennedy tartan on all our kilts. We’ve worn that in honor of John F. Kennedy since 1963.”
After the parade The Rovers take buses to some of their favorite pubs and eateries, ranging from Emmit’s Irish Pub & Eatery near River West, all the way down on the South Side to Fox’s Pub in the Beverly neighborhood. The band also enjoys centrally-located spots like Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House and Joe’s on Weed to, in Giblin’s words, “have a beer, have a bite to eat and enjoy the company of just really good people.”
In addition to making merry at various pubs and bars in the city, The Shannon Rovers keep piping and drumming long after the parade wraps; Giblin says the band plays at most every bar they visit, starting up bagpipe music on the sidewalk on onstage of their favorite bars.
While the band has deep roots in Chicago’s Irish community–the founding members of the Shannon Rovers immigrated from Ireland–today the group is focused on sharing the traditions of the founders with the larger community. Giblin notes that men and women, ranging widely in age and profession (“we have doctors and plumbers and teachers and bankers”) comprise the group today. In the spirit of inclusiveness, Giblin says being Irish by birth isn’t pre-requisite. “We accept everyone, all good people.”
Curious about more Irish traditions? The check out ‘Best Places To Watch Irish Dancing In Chicago‘!