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Thousands enjoy ‘family-friendly’ South Side Irish Parade

The South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade had thousands lined up Western Avenue from 103rd 115th streets enjoying parade

The South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade had thousands lined up on Western Avenue from 103rd to 115th streets enjoying the parade and the perfect weather. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: April 13, 2012 10:36AM

Mary Hendry was there at the beginning, in 1979, when the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade was nothing more than kids marching around their Morgan Park neighborhood.

It was the brainchild of her husband, George, and his good friend, Pat Coakley, who were pining for the days of old, when 79th Street was home to the original South Side Irish Parade. The kids, who became known as the “Wee Folks of Washtenaw and Talman,” had a post-parade feast of pop and Twinkies in the Hendrys’ garage.

That event had, more recently, morphed into a spectacle drawing some 300,000 people to the Southwest Side’s 19th Ward. And it had become, in the words of that ward’s alderman, “a sometimes lawless event fueled by public drunkenness.”

Put in mothballs after the 2009 installment, the parade was allowed to be resurrected this year only after organizers vowed to clamp down on loud-mouthed rowdies and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for open alcohol containers along the Western Avenue parade route.

Hendry said after Sunday’s parade that the atmosphere this year reminded her of the parade’s early days, when the focus was celebrating “faith, family and community.”

“Maybe the little hiatus helped people understand it’s for family and children, not drinking and revelry,” she said.

Parade organizers estimated this year’s crowd at 150,000, and Chicago Police reported no arrests were made, compared to the 54 at the 2009 parade.

Chicago Police maintained a significant presence and several parade marshals wearing white windbreakers walked the route. Parade organizers paid $80,000 to hire a private security firm, which deployed yellow-jacketed staff along side streets leading to Western Avenue to check for illicit beverages.

In a statement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel congratulated parade organizers for helping to “create a respectful and family-friendly South Side Irish parade.”

This year’s parade began on a solemn note, with family and friends of the late Marine Cpl. Conner Lowry leading marchers.

Lowry, of Beverly, died in Afghanistan on March 1 during combat operations, four months before he was due to be discharged.

A lone bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” then Lowry’s mother, Modie Lavin, pointed her hand skyward before snipping a green ribbon, formally starting the parade.

Family members and supporters wore T-shirts that read “Conner’s Parade.”

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