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Dyeing of river kicks off St. Patrick's Day weekend

Winter's dreary grip on Chicago relented Saturday, if only for a few hours, beneath an explosion of green accompanying the city's annual St. Patrick's Day festivities.

Revelers donned emerald hats, necklaces and earrings. Some sported lime mustaches and wigs or shamrock-speckled tights and tutus. Others chose slightly more subdued flair — a knit, olive scarf, a mint-hued coat.

"I love the outfits," said Tracey Ward. "I'm people watching."

Ward, 43, said she is in the Chicago area for work until September and that the St. Patrick's Day parade is one of the experiences she wanted to have before she left.

"It's like a bucket list thing," said Ward, who wore a green hat, scarf and plastic necklace.

The Chicago River, as usual, got into the holiday spirit, too.

"It's really bright green," said one person in a crowd of thousands who flocked to Michigan Avenue in the morning to watch several people on a speed boat dye the river chartreuse.

From there, the masses moved on — many stopping to drink at bars along the way — to Columbus Drive where cheers, whistles and the sound of bagpipes kicked off the St. Patrick's Day parade around noon.

"It's really great," said Lidan Zhang, standing in the sun near a parade barricade. "After a really terrible winter, today is really nice."

Zhang said she came to the parade, in part, to show her mother who is visiting from Beijing the Chicago tradition.

"I wanted her to see it," she said.

Nearby, Willie Winters and Kourtney Elam, who live on the Northwest Side, leaned against a fence talking.

Winters, 28, said despite living nearby he had never seen the parade before.

"It's been very fun and festive," said Elam, 27. "Festive is the word."

Just beyond the gathered spectators, the parade — Irish dancers, marching bands, flags, banners and floats — rolled by.

"This is my favorite part," said Jean Hill, who raised her iPhone in the air to catch footage of a group of kilt-clad bagpipe players and drummers.

Hill, 64, lives in Wisconsin and stood on the sidewalk beside her husband, Duane, his sister and his sister's husband.

"I've always wanted to come to it," said Duane Hill, 65. "So we came down to the city for the weekend with the express purpose of coming to the parade."

"And being from Wisconsin, I like beer, too," he added, laughing.

The sunny, relatively warm day was an added bonus.

"We may be old, but we still want to celebrate spring," Jean Hill joked.

Police reported nothing unusual during Saturday’s parade.

Adam Collins, a spokesman for the Chicago Police department said in an email that there were no major incidents or issues. As of about 8 p.m. Saturday, Collins was not able to say how many arrests there were.

The official crowd estimate was set by the city at about 500,000, according to city spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

The St. Patrick's Day celebrations are set to continue Sunday, a day before the actual March 17 holiday.

The South Side Irish Parade is at noon; it runs on Western Avenue, starting at 103rd Street and going south to 115th Street. There will be street closures in the area beginning about 9 a.m. Sunday, according to the city; the road closures should last until about 3 p.m. The parade website said there will be no parking on Western Avenue from 99th Street to 119th Street beginning at 6 a.m.; starting at 8 a.m., there will be no parking on the east side of Artesian Avenue from 103rd Street to 111th Street and on the west side of Claremont Avenue from 103rd Street to 107th Street.

The Northwest Side Irish Parade is also at noon Sunday; it begins at William J. Onahan School at 6634 W. Raven Street, heads east on Raven to Neola Avenue, then southwest on Neola to Northwest Highway, where it heads northwest to Harlem Avenue. The parade is expected to end about 1:30 p.m., according to the parade website.

Tribune reporter Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed to this report. | Twitter: @cdizikes

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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