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Chicago River To Be Dyed Green Again, And Parades Are Back For St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

The Downtown, South Side and Northwest Side St. Patrick's Day parades will return for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The Chicago River dyed Kelly green March 13, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will be in full swing this weekend as the city welcomes back crowds to watch the Chicago River dyed green and celebrate three beloved parades.

The major celebrations will occur Saturday and Sunday, while St. Patrick’s Day is March 17. The return of the river dyeing ceremony and parades marks the first time those events have been held in years due to the pandemic.

Something to keep in mind: Dress to stay warm if you’ll be outside. Saturday has a chance for snow, and the day will be mostly cloudy. It’ll be “blustery” with a high near 26 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Sunday will be mostly sunny and warmer, with temperatures expected to hit 44 degrees.

Here’s what to expect at each:

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Apri and Avery Long pose for a photo in their green getup on March 13, 2021.

River Dyeing

The river dyeing kicks off 10 a.m. Saturday, turning the water green between Columbus Drive and Orleans Street. The city skipped the tradition in 2020 as the pandemic set in, then dyed the river as a last-minute surprise last year.

The Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130, which have been behind the tradition since 1962, will again handle this year’s dyeing. The effect typically lasts for several days.

The idea was spawned by Stephen Bailey, who was the union’s business manager in the early ’60s and thought the dye — used to trace leaks in buildings — would be a nice way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Although the exact concoction remains a closely guarded secret, it is vegetable-based. Dyeing the river only requires about 40 pounds of powdered dye, which is spread by people two to three motorboats — one with the dye and one or two to churn the water, according to Thrillist.

Thousands of people usually line the bridges and riverwalk to see the river turn green.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
After announcing earlier this month that the river wouldn’t be dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day for a second straight year, the river was dyed Kelly green after all early Saturday morning, March 13, 2021

Downtown Parade

The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade will step off from Balbo and Columbus drives at 12:15 p.m. Marchers will head north to Monroe Street. This year’s theme is “honoring Chicagoland’s essential workers,” and the grand marshal is Judge John C. Griffin.

Spectators can access the route starting at 10 a.m., and they will only be allowed to enter at Jackson Avenue or at Ida B. Wells Drive, organizers said. Grandstand seating at Ida B. Wells and Columbus drives opens at 11:15 a.m.

The parade will have a heightened security process “to ensure a safe and family-friendly environment,” according to the event’s website. Security checkpoints will be set up to inspect people’s bags and purses, organizers said. Coolers, alcohol, open drinks, water bottles and camelbacks will not be allowed along the parade route.

Organizers strongly encourage people to use public transportation and arrive early. The celebration will go on rain or snow, organizers said. Masks and proof of vaccination will not be required.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band plays on Columbus Drive on March 13, 2021.

South Side Irish Parade

Also making its long-awaited return is the South Side Irish Parade, which will begin noon Sunday. The route starts at 103rd and Western Avenue and goes to 115th Street and Western Avenue.

There are more than 100 entries for the famous South Side celebration, according to a news release. This year’s grand marshal will be “representatives of dedicated individuals who educate, encourage and inspire our youth each and every day” from 10 area Catholic schools.

The South Side Irish parade is the largest neighborhood-based St. Patrick’s Day Parade outside of Dublin, drawing as many as 150,000 revelers. It was founded in 1979 and has returned every year except 2009-2011, when rowdy, drunken behavior was blamed for its cancellation, and during the first two years of the pandemic.

Credit: Kate Gardiner/Flickr
A troop of Irish dancers walk in the South Side Irish Parade.

Northwest Side Irish Parade

The Northwest Side Irish Parade also starts noon Sunday at William J. Onahan School, 6634 West Raven St. Its grand marshal will be James T. Slevin, president of the local Utility Workers Union of America.

The official after party will be held at Zia’s Social, 6158 N. Northwest Highway.

More information about the Northwest Side parade can be found at its website.

Credit: Mauricio Pena/DNAinfo Chicago
A previous St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Chicago.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A boat rides along the dyed Chicago River on March 13, 2021.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Mayor Lori Lightfoot rides the Cityview boat as the river is dyed on March 13, 2021.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band plays on Columbus Drive in 2021.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A person dons St. Patrick’s Day accessories on March 13, 2021.

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