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the occasions lady and

St. Patrick’s Day Shenanigans
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

When my Ancestry DNA results came back in 2019, it gave me all the reason I needed to mark an item off my bucket list.

Based on my DNA estimate, the largest percentage of my ancestry (65 percent) can be traced to England, Wales and Northwestern Europe. One of the reasons that I initially wanted to do the DNA test was because I always believed I had ancestors who were of Native American descent. That assumption was primarily based on old photos of my maternal grandmother, who died when I was about 4 years old. Although the test proved that theory wrong, it turns out that the second biggest piece of my ancestry (26 percent) can be traced to Ireland and Scotland.

So, last March, my daughters, Emma and Sophie, and I decided to travel to Chicago for spring break to celebrate our newly discovered Irish heritage at one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the country. Although we have been to Chicago many times, I have always wanted to be in the Windy City on St. Patrick’s Day to see the Chicago River dyed green. Last year, we decided to make it happen.

After arriving at our hotel the night before the celebration, we decided to walk down to the river to get a better idea of where we wanted to watch the boats add the green dye to the river. We also stopped along the way to purchase a few souvenirs, including an oversized green, Leprechaun-style hat for photos.

An estimated 400,000 spectators line the bridges and scenic Riverwalk along the Chicago River to view the emerald green waters each year, so we left the hotel early to try to grab a spot along one of the bridges. Upon arrival, members of the Chicago Plumbers Union had just begun dying the river green. As the crowd cheered them on, they used hoses to spray an environmentally friendly orange powder called “leprechaun dust” into the water. The effect was immediate as the river began turning into the most beautiful shade of emerald green.

Although I had been a little concerned about what kind of crowd we would encounter during the day, people were mostly considerate and took turns getting photos in the most scenic locations early in the day. By early afternoon, it became pretty hectic to get to a good spot along the river as the crowd swelled, but Chicago police officers kept the celebration under control. Eventually, we decided to abandon the crowd and opted for a late brunch and shopping.

At the end of the day, we stopped at the hotel bar for an Irish beverage before calling it a day.

“We’re out of all the Irish beer,” the bartender said. “The Micks drank ‘em all.”

I laughed at the irony. There I was celebrating my newly discovered Irish heritage in Chicago, and someone was already insulting a quarter of my DNA.

The sun came out and danced on the emerald green waters as we celebrated along the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day last year. Other than me coming down with the flu near the end of our stay, it was a near perfect trip. Whether you are Irish, part Irish or not Irish at all, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is definitely bucket list worthy. It’s a trip that the girls and I will always remember, and thanks to Ancestry.com, we can celebrate our heritage every St. Patrick’s Day knowing we are at least Irish-ish.