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CHICAGO — The iconic South Side Irish Parade has been a staple in Chicago’s celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day for years. But how did the iconic event come to be?

Marianne Coakley not only has the title of co-founder of the South Side Irish Parade but she covets the first and the only official float — the baby buggy — made from her son’s actual stroller he used in 1979.

The parade was the vision of two neighbors, George Hendry and Marianne’s husband, Pat Coakley. Both were born and raised on Chicago’s South Side in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Years later, they both moved to Morgan Park and became friends and neighbors.

The two would reminisce about the original South Side Irish Parade, then known as the Southtown Parade, that left for downtown in 1960.

Sometime in 1979, Hendry and Coakley felt the obligation to create a new tradition for their friends and neighbors. It had been nearly 20 years since the last parade in the neighborhood, and the sought out to create a new parade for a new generation.

“On a rainy Saturday on March 17, 1979 we gathered up the neighborhood of about 17 kids to walk in the first South Side Irish parade,” Coakley said. “The children were the only marches.”

The parade’s baby buggy float was covered with a box decorated with shamrocks and the 26 county flags of Ireland. It has become a symbol of pride of the South Side.

Parade Banner for 2022

The first parade was on the 10900 blocks of Washtenaw and Talman avenues. The theme was “Bring Back St. Pat,” which was Coakley and Hendry’s way of saying bring back the parade they had cherished as children.

Neighbors watched proudly as the parade marched through the streets, with a festive atmosphere similar to a block party.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1980, the parade moved from the sidewalks to the side streets and began at Kennedy Park, attendance up from the 40 or so the first year to over 300 participants in 1980.

In 1981, the parade enjoyed a surge in popularity as marched down Western Avenue for the first time — and it continues to do so today.

The “official float” of the South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade

What started out as a plea to bring back a beloved parade from years past has turned into an international event.

Each year since 1981, the official parade route has been from 103rd Street and Western Avenue to 115th Street and Western Avenue.

Today, the parade hosts over 10,000 marches and up to 200,000 spectators each year, and it has become one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations outside of Dublin.

To learn more about the parade, visit the event’s website.

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The “official float” in the early years