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Despite cold, South Side Irish Parade warms spirits

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Updated: April 18, 2014 6:18AM

Entertaining and cold.

Those were the first words that came to mind for Beverly resident Ellen McLoughlin when asked what she thought of Sunday’s 36th edition of the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

According to a sign along the parade route, the temperature hit a high of 27 degrees. Another sign at the corner of 105th Street and Western Avenue read “Kiss me, I’m freezing.”

It was that kind of day.

McLoughlin laughed when asked how she felt after watching the 90-minute parade.

“I’m going home to try and get some feeling back into my extremities,” she said.

Unlike past years, there were large stretches along Western Avenue devoid of people. The turnout was far less than the 150,000 expected by organizers. They said Sunday’s turnout was about 125,000. Chicago Police reported no problems.

“The cold may have kept some people away,” parade promoter Ellyn Caruso said.

Those who did show up were treated to a parade with 99 entrants, including marching bands, floats, politicians, the pipes, and — in keeping with the Chicago tradition — a little politics as some seeking votes in Tuesday’s primary election marched.

Gov. Pat Quinn heard cheers and boos when he strolled past County Fair Foods.

“Give me back my taxes,” shouted Tim O’Connor, 51, of Oak Lawn.

Quinn did not respond, but O’Connor’s brother, Kevin, 45, of Burbank, enjoyed a hearty laugh.

He and Tim were dressed in their gaudiest, brightest, greenest garb for the event. While Tim regretted not having a pair of gloves, Kevin embraced the cold.

“Ah, it’s Chicago,” Kevin said. “We’re here every year — rain, snow, sleet. It’s never too cold for the parade.”

Nor is it ever too hot.

“Two years ago,” Tim chimed in, “it was 80 degrees out here.”

The Gray family journeyed from Naperville for the parade and a party. Dressed as though ready for day of sledding, sisters Samantha, 7, and Amanda, 5, agreed on their favorite part of the parade. “The candy,” they shouted.

Longtime parade-goers like John Brogan, of Mount Greenwood, who has portrayed St. Patrick for 20-some years, said he walked the 1.5-mile route rather than ride on the Irish/American Alliance float “because it’s a good way to stay warm.”

Mike Sergo, 50, of Brookfield, came to the parade dressed for a January day at Soldier Field.

“It’s not too bad. It’s tolerable. It’s like a Bears game. I’m on the east side [of Western] because there’s more sun and the wind is at my back. I feel sorry for people on the west side,” Sergo said. “I enjoy coming here. I love the bagpipes.”

Some parade watchers avoided the cold by staying inside bars and restaurants along Western Avenue or waited until the parade began at noon to show up.

Running in the Emerald Isle Mile before the parade, Maureen Coogan, 41, of Crestwood, wore a cloth Viking helmet and pigtail made of yarn. While she is “100 percent Irish,” the hat is a running gag with her spouse.

“My husband is Swedish and we always have a joke about how the Vikings invaded Ireland,” she said.

With some Vikings hailing from Iceland, her fashion choice seemed appropriate.

An authentic Irishman, Michael Carr, 61, of Warrenpoint, a small town in County Down, Northern Ireland, said he was “very impressed” by the parade.

“I’m here to visit family. My uncle is 80 years of age now and he moved here in the early ’60s,” Carr said.

Family played a key role in the parade, with many Irish-American families marching behind banners bearing their surname. Countless house parties, again with a strong emphasis on family, were held before and after the parade throughout the 19th Ward.

Tom and Katie Lynch, in the 10500 block of South Hoyne Avenue, welcomed about 40 friends and relatives for breakfast before the parade and for snacks and partying after. Tom served up Guinness and other libations in their cozy basement bar, hoping to defrost parade-goers.

Earlier, Katie and two of her sisters were busy preparing six dozen eggs for guests who began arriving about 9:30 a.m.

Tom’s sister, Maureen Wott, of Burr Ridge, wore a wild headdress — green, of course — that lit up. Sunday was more than just the parade, parties and good food, she said.

“It’s a celebration of family tradition and it gives everybody the opportunity to take the time from their busy lives to get together and appreciate what you have,” Wott said.

Contributing: Nick Swedberg

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