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Chicago looks to be US headquarters of St. Patrick's Day

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  January 18, 2013 10:51 AM

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For a good number of Bostonians, there is nowhere they’d rather be on St. Patrick’s Day—except perhaps Ireland, itself—than the streets of their city celebrating their collective Irish heritage.

Hundreds of thousands of revelers line the streets of South Boston every year to celebrate the iconic St. Patrick’s Day Parade while other visit their favorite pubs, or share a traditional dinner with their family.

It’s a citywide St. Patrick’s Day celebration many residents would say is unparalleled by any other, but one that Chicagoans think they can rival.

Chicago has launched a campaign to showcase the city’s Irish pride and is lobbying to be declared the US headquarters for St. Patrick’s Day.

The initiative, ShamROCK Chicago, is collecting online votes in support of declaring Chicago the US headquarters of St. Patrick’s Day.

The ShamROCK Chicago Council, a group of business and civic leaders with Irish ties, plan to deliver the petition and vote tally to Aidan Cronin, consul general of Ireland, before this year’s holiday.

“More than any other city in the United States, Chicago exemplifies Irish pride. ShamROCK Chicago is an ideal opportunity for all Chicagoans to show their green pride and build community goodwill,” Mick O’Rourke, president and CEO of Signature Bank and ShamROCK Chicago Council member, said in a statement promoting the drive.

O’Rourke said the title would help promote the city’s strong Irish ties.

Chicago hosts multiple parades every year and dyes the Chicago River green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and is home to the Irish American Heritage Center, but the question remains: can Chicago beat out Boston as the American headquarters of St. Patrick’s Day?

According to Census estimates, Boston is home to an estimated 98,441 people of Irish descent. That’s 16.1 percent of the city’s 609,942 residents and by far the largest ancestry group in Boston. The next-largest group, Italians, consists of 8.2 percent of the population.

While the larger Chicago is home to more than double the number of residents who identify as Irish, they make up a much smaller chunk of the city of 2.7 million. The 201,693 Chicagoans of Irish ancestry make up 7.5 percent of the city’s population.

In Chicago, Irish ranks just below German ancestry, which 7.6 percent of residents claim.

Besides touting a higher percentage of Irish Americans, Boston’s own Irish heritage spans across the city and the centuries.

The Boston Irish Famine Memorial, commemorating the 100,000 Irish refugees who arrived in Boston between 1845 and 1849, statues throughout the city honoring notable figures with Irish roots, and Fenway Park, built by an Irish immigrant, are just a few stops on the Irish Heritage Trail that loops through Boston.

Still, the people of Chicago are ready to see if their heritage, traditions and nearly weeklong celebration is enough to put them on top.

“While other cities might claim older traditions or greater Irish populations, we can say with confidence that nobody outside of Dublin celebrates St. Patrick’s Day quite like Chicago does,” Blair Cieko, a spokesperson for the initiative, said in an e-mail.

But St. Patrick’s Day in Boston is not just about being Irish. It also marks a great victory for the city: the day British troops left Boston during the American Revolution.

It was March 1776 when Continental Army troops fortified Dorchester Heights with 55 cannons General John Henry Knox, a Boston resident of Irish descent, brought from Fort Ticonderoga. The show of power, which included logs painted to look like cannons, led British forces to begin evacuating Boston on March 17.

That same day, the password used in order to pass through continental lines was “St. Patrick.”

“It’s a historic day in Boston and throughout the country, as well as in South Boston,” Ed Flynn, South Boston native and U.S. Navy veteran, who is the parade's Chief Marshal for 2013.

The South Boston parade is hosted by Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston and it is designed to honor veterans and their families.

“We also remember and recognize the important role veterans have played in defending our country form our country’s earliest days to the present,” said Flynn, an Irish American who has watched the parade since he was a child.

He welcomed Chicago celebrating its heritage.

“Chicago is also a great American city and they’re also very proud of their parade, and the enormous contributions the people of Chicago have made to the county,” Flynn said. "We have a great respect for the city of Chicago and the city of New York," another city with a proud Irish population and celebration.

Now, Flynn and volunteers are focused on planning a celebration that honors the contributions of veterans and Irish Americans.

“It’s great and proud day for the people of Boston and we’re welcoming and we want everyone to have a good time," Flynn said. "It’s a great famiy event."

E-mail Kaiser at Johanna.yourtown@gmail.com.

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