Mayor Harold Washington: Irish for a Day

Mayor Harold Washington holds aloft a shillelagh during the 1987 St. Patrick's Day Parade. Source: Harold Washington Archives and Collections: Press Office Photographs, Box 60, Folder 2. Photographer: Peter J. Schulz

Chicago's first modern downtown St. Patrick's Day parade was in 1956, when Richard J. Daley was mayor. The Chicago River was first dyed green in 1962. Since then, each year, the downtown parade and river dyeing have become important milestones in Chicago's late winter, with many people celebrating a communal party in the Loop.

1987 was no different. Mayor Harold Washington participated in the annual parade, and the Chicago River was turned a bright shade of emerald. But Mayor Washington also celebrated the holiday and the city's strong connection to Ireland in other ways.

According to his schedule for March 17, 1987, found in the Harold Washington Archives and Collections, Mayor Washington began his day at Holy Angels School, where he visited fourth- and sixth-grade classrooms to observe exchange teachers from Ireland. He then attended the school's St. Patrick's Day rally and even received a green lei from the students.

The mayor then returned to City Hall, where he had a small reception in his offices. The Irish Consul General, Peter Gunning, gave him some shamrocks, and Purchasing Commissioner Mary Skipton danced to live musicians playing traditional Irish music. After all of this, it was finally time for the parade, where Mayor Washington displayed his Irish shillelagh, a traditional Irish club, a gift to him in 1983 from Chicagoan Mary O'Malley.

Thirty years later, I wonder how Chicagoans will celebrate the holiday this year. How will you?