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Green river Chicago
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15 things to do in Chicago to celebrate St Patrick's Day and all things Irish in 2022

Here's our guide to all things Celtic, including pub crawls, live music and film festivals

Written by Erin Yarnall in association with Guinness.
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It’s the time of year to dust off your green outfits, see some parade floats decked out in their best green decorations, and get ready to see the river dyed, well, green. There’s a lot of green happening this time of year because it’s nearly St. Patrick’s Day, one of the holidays that the city celebrates best. While the past few years have had muted celebrations, this year’s a time to reconnect with family and friends to celebrate, and there are many ways to do that in Chicago, with three different parades, Irish food specials and pub crawls, as well as church-sponsored block parties.

But when St. Patrick’s Day ends, it doesn't mean you have to put away the Irish spirit. You can pour a pint of Guinness and enjoy embracing Irish culture all year round in Chicago through checking out Celtic music, hitting some Irish pubs, and even learning the tricky-to-master Gaelic language. Here’s our choices for the best ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and all things Irish throughout the rest of the year.

Catch all three St. Patrick’s Day Parades
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1. Catch all three St. Patrick’s Day Parades

After two years of cancellations due to COVID-19, Chicago’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which runs through Grant Park, will take place a few days before the holiday on March 12. In recognition of the past two years, the parade’s theme will be Honoring Chicagoland’s Essential Workers. But for those who don’t want to face the crowds of the downtown parade, or just want to continue celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, there’s two more parades on March 13 — the Northwest Side Irish Parade, which winds through the Norwood Park neighborhood, and the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade which travels more than a mile down Western Ave. in the city’s Morgan Park neighborhood. Both of the neighborhood parades are expecting around 100 groups to participate.

2. Stop by a pub for Irish eats

For great Irish dining, you don’t have to travel all the way to the Emerald Isle, Chicago’s home to dozens of pubs whipping up Irish fare, and almost all of them are having St. Patrick’s Day specials. If you don’t feel like going out but still want to eat Irish, stop by Gaelic Imports, a grocery store in Jefferson Park, where you can stock up on items like soda bread, Scottish sausages, and even Galway crystal to serve it on the most special occasions.

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Go for a run at the Shamrock Shuffle
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3. Go for a run at the Shamrock Shuffle

Chicago runners are typically at a crossroads during winter — do you go outside in the freezing temperatures and endure wet shoes, slippery pavements, and a very cold face, do you invest in a treadmill, or do you just give up on running altogether? The annual Shamrock Shuffle puts an end to these questions as the beloved eight-kilometer run or two-mile walk signals a start to spring, as it’s taking place March 20. The Irish-themed race, a St. Patrick’s Day weekend tradition, sees runners, primarily clad in green, weave through the Loop before enjoying a post-race party at Buckingham Fountain.

4. Celebrate at Shamrock’n the Block

The holiday festivities don’t end when the parades hit the end of their respective routes, instead, they continue throughout the day at Old St. Patrick’s Church at the Catholic church’s Shamrock’n the Block, a festive, six-hour block party starting once the downtown parade finishes. The event will have a heated beer tent, live Irish music, dancing, and activities for kids — including Irish dance lessons and a magic show. General admission tickets are $10 when purchased in advance ($15 at the door), and $50 for an all-inclusive ticket that comes with food and drinks.

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Watch the river get dyed green
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5. Watch the river get dyed green

Okay, so the Chicago River is a sick shade of green all year long, but each year around St. Patrick’s Day the river is dyed a more vibrant, and noticeable shade of lime green, drawing in thousands of people to stand on bridges and watch as the murky water becomes as bright green as the slime on Nickelodeon. A quarter-mile stretch of the river is dyed by members of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130, who use an orange-red, vegetable-based powder. The river is always dyed the same day as the downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so attendees can check out both on the same day.

6. Take part in a pub crawl

If there’s one holiday that’s guaranteed to ensure lively pub crowds, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. For most of the revelers, one pub isn’t enough, leaving the city overrun with pub crawls during the holiday weekend. There are pub crawls going through many of the city’s neighborhoods, so pick your closest, or favorite one and hit the town. If you want to take the day at a slower pace, and don’t feel like joining a raucous pre-organized crawl then make your own crawl, stopping by some of the best Irish pubs the city has to offer, and don’t forget to grab a pint of Guinness while you’re there.

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Enjoy the festivities at the annual Wearing of the Green Dance
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7. Enjoy the festivities at the annual Wearing of the Green Dance

Getting out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day again with old friends has made some people so happy they want to dance — literally — at the city’s Wearing of the Green Dance. The dance, celebrated around St. Patrick’s Day each year, will be held on March 6 and features a corned beef and cabbage dinner, tunes from Celtic musicians Gerry Haughey and Joe Cullen, and of course, a sea of green outfits. Hosted by the Irish American Heritage Center on the city’s far northwest side, the event has been held annually for 15 years.

Enjoy the music of a Celtic band
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8. Enjoy the music of a Celtic band

Music is an important part of every culture, especially Irish, and so there’s no way that you can really get into Irish culture without having at least an understanding, if not a deep appreciation of the various genres and groups that have come from the Emerald Isle. The best way to enjoy traditional Irish folk music is by seeing it live, and there are plenty of opportunities to do that in Chicago, including at almost every Irish pub in the city (and there’s a lot!). If you end up loving Irish music so much that you want to learn how to play it, you can take lessons at the Irish Music School.

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9. Learn some steps at an Irish dance class

What good is listening to Irish music if you’re just going to sit still when you hear it? Instead of not moving, or busting out some moves that don’t fit the music, take an Irish dance class. There are numerous schools throughout the city where you can pick up some steps, and if you’re not up for performing but want to see some dancing done by the pros, check out a show from the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance. If you’re still shy after classes and need some liquid courage before showing off your moves in a pub, order a pint of Guinness and then show off your moves.

Catch a flick at the Irish Film Festival
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10. Catch a flick at the Irish Film Festival

Move over Cannes and Toronto — for movie buffs, Chicago is a great place to be. The city is home to so many film festivals, including one specifically focusing on Irish films. Each year since 1999, the Chicago Irish Film Festival has brought a spotlight to films made by Irish filmmakers, with modern Irish films being screened in three theaters throughout the city. The 2022 festival is a hybrid festival — it will be hosting four days of in-person screenings, from March 3 to 6, and starting March 7, the festival will be running virtually until it concludes on March 13.

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11. Get caught up in drama at Irish Theater of Chicago

Whether you want to laugh, cry, or just get out of the house to see a great show, it’s almost certain that the Irish Theater of Chicago would have something you’re looking for. The theater, which has been bringing Irish stories to life for more than 25 years, puts on several shows a season of works by Irish playwrights and has regular reading events.

Follow along with local hurling and Gaelic football teams
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12. Follow along with local hurling and Gaelic football teams

You're spoiled for choice when it comes to sports in Chicago, from two professional baseball teams to basketball and hockey, and while those sports can also be enjoyed in Ireland, there are two to really get invested in if you really want to learn about Irish culture — Gaelic football and hurling. Gaelic football, sort of a mishmash of rugby and soccer, is played by several clubs in the city, and there’s even the Chicago Patriots Gaelic Football Club if you want to get a taste of how the pros play. Hurling goes back thousands of years in Ireland, and while it’s a magical experience to see the game played in Ireland, there are plenty of clubs that have games organized by the Chicago Gaelic Athletic Association.

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13. Read about Irish culture with the Gaelic Park Book Club

Although not located directly in Chicago (instead in nearby southwestern suburb Oak Forest), Gaelic Park is one of the top places in the Chicagoland area to connect with Irish culture, especially through literature as part of the cultural center’s book club. The book club meets on the first Sunday of every month to discuss works by noted Irish writers like Frank McCourt, James Joyce, and Emma Donoghue.

Attend a service at Old St. Patrick’s Church
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14. Attend a service at Old St. Patrick’s Church

There’s more to Irish culture than just Protestantism and catholicism, but you’d be lying if you said that religion didn’t loom largely over it. If you want to really know what it’s like to be Irish, or at least Irish American, stop by Old St. Patrick’s Church, a Catholic church that’s also one of Chicago’s oldest buildings — it was built in 1846 and is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The church’s design was even inspired by the Book of Kells, which can be found in the Trinity College Library in Dublin.

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15. Learn the Irish language at Na Gaeil Chicago

Sure, you can get around Ireland just fine speaking English, but if you really want to get invested in the culture, what better way to do so than learning the language. Irish, or Gaelic as it’s also referred to, has been spoken on the island since at least the fourth century. While Irish, or Gaelic, isn’t commonly spoken in Chicago, there are spots to work on your Gaelic, including Nae Gaeil Chicago, which offers 15-week sessions of in-person classes at the Irish American Heritage Center, as well as online classes for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.

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