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South Side Irish Parade a Smaller, Family-Friendly Affair

By  Darryl Holliday and Emily Morris | March 10, 2013 2:57pm | Updated on March 10, 2013 5:58pm

BEVERLY — Turn-out was visibly lower for this year's South Side Irish Parade, but that didn't dampen the celebration.

If anything, the smaller crowds were an improvement, according to some parade-goers. Some attributed it to the, at times, rainy weather, while others noted the absense of one notorious feature of parades past: "out-of-control boozing."

"It was fun when it was the 'old' parade and we were younger, but now it's great for our kids," said Megan Murzyn, surrounded by other members of the Murzyn clan.

Seven-year-old Mac Murzyn said his favorite part of the parade was seeing the float from his school go by.

Thin crowds meant Dan Schatzman, 53, of West Beverly and St. John Fisher Parish, could snag a rare front-row view.

"I'm surprised I got a front spot," Shatzman said. "Normally we're elbow-to-elbow."

The parade's stricter alcohol regulations was a change for the better, he said.

"They changed it to [be] more family friendly instead of [having] drunken revelers," Schatzman said. "It's something good for the South Side."

Rain fell in spurts along the parade route but attendees came prepared with ponchos and umbrellas in order to enjoy the more than 95 floats.

"The weather won't hold us down," Mac's mother, Jennifer Murzyn said.

According to Pat Mullen, this year's parade was clearly less populated than in his past 25 years of attendance — but he said that's not a problem.

"It's back to its traditional roots," the former Eisenhower high school teacher said. "It got to the point where it was all fights and young people taking advantage. Now it's more family-oriented again."

Moonji Kim couldn't didn't notice the comparison because this year was her first time attending the South Side parade.

The 25-year-old Korean foreign exchange student is one week into her six-month stay in the U.S. and celebrated in style despite the downcast weather.

"The rain? It doesn't matter," she said.

Kevin Coakley, 2013 South Side parade co-chair, agreed.

"There's nothing you can do about the weather," he said. "To me, it's just like being in Ireland."

"The message is that we're celebrating our heritage, family and community."

Despite the parade's former reputation as the time and place for excessive boozing, Coakley said this year would be different.

"We're expecting the same results as last year," he said. "Keep [the drinking] indoors."

As of 1:30 p.m., that appeared to be exactly the case along the parade route.

But not everyone was pleased with the tighter rules.

"People didn't turn out because the alderman [was] scaring them away," said Bridgeport resident Ryan Sheahan, 27, referring to Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who urged for a crackdown on drunken behavior at the parade. Sheahan said he preferred the fun he had at at the event in years past, when he and his friends could drink along the avenue.

Traditional Irish bagpipers were on hand along with students from nearby schools and the families of fallen first responders, who served as Grand Marshal Representatives this year.

Though some apparently drunken parade-goers enjoyed themselves along the route, the event appeared to be, on the whole, good fun for kids and family.

Just two ordinance violations were issued during the parade, one for an illegal vendor and another for possession of cannabis, according to officer Daniel O'Brien, a Chicago Police Department spokesman, citing preliminary information.

Traditions continued

Some families avoided the parade all together and instead held house and lot parties near the route. For many, these parties are a years-long tradition.

Bill "Uncle Wiggy" Winters, 43, has hosted a party for friends and family at a small lot off of 107th Street and Western Avenue near the parade route for 20 years, said brother Pat Winters.

Though the Winters family has roots in the Midway area, they've since spread out to the southwest suburbs, and the South Side parade is their chance to get together each year.

"Some of them we only see at the South Side parade," Bill Winters said.

Pat Winters said the party once drew a record 300 people, and this year he said he expected about 75 close family and pals to show up at the lot and dig into homemade soda bread, green non-alcoholic Jell-O shots, corned beef and sweets.

Though the party is a small distance from Western Avenue, they usually don't catch a glimpse of the procession itself due to crowds.

"In 20 years, we've never seen the parade," Pat Winters, 48, said, though he added they do make sure to see the Pipefitters Local 597.

"Uncle Wiggy" cooks the food, mixes the family-friendly drinks and brings a camper every year to keep the guests warm, Pat Winters said. They also serve refreshments local police and other first responders every year, said Winters family friend Joe Lecompte, of Clearing and St. Rene Groupal Parish.

"They know we're not the riffraff," Joe Lecompte, 40, said, referring to rowdy years past. "And they appreciate the coffee."

Another who served a plate a food to men working security was Maria, who declined to give her last name but said she's held a party for the South Side Irish Parade at her 105th Street home near  Western Avenue for the past 15 years.

Maria and her friends get to drink at their party, but things were fairly light starting off Sunday morning at her home before the parade. She commented on the marked difference between this calm year and the times when things got out of control.

Not like "the old days"

Last year was the first time since "the old days" that Maria could hold the party without worrying about people urinating in the yard or fighting and "throwing each other against my house", she said.

"Before that, it got to the point where the National Guard couldn't contain it," Maria said.

Resident Colleen Bahr, who hosted a party off of 104th Street and Western, said she too was relieved about the smaller crowds and stricter rules.

"In past years, we used to have to rope off the area," Bahr, 38, said. "Now we get to have an open party."

After the parade was over, people filed into bars and back to their homes while the Department of Streets and Sanitation immediately began cleaning up.

"This is the least amount of carnage I've seen at a South Side Irish parade," said Burbank resident Bill Jankowski, 26 after the parade had cleared. "But people were still having fun."