St. Patrick's Day

Where the Tradition of Dying a River Green on St Patricks Day Began

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"Where the Tradition of Dying a River Green on St Patricks Day Began"
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Great minds often travel the same path. So it is with the idea of turning the river green for St. Paddy's Day. Although it has never dyed the Savannah River green, Savannah, Georgia, claims to have originated the idea of dying a river green as part of the St. Patrick's Day celebration. The idea was abandoned in Savannah, however, due to river turbulence and weather conditions. Perhaps it came up with the idea, but Savannah has never turned its river green for St. Paddy's Day.

Turning the Chicago River green for St. Patrick's Day was actually developed by Chicago's sewer department. To check for illegal and faulty discharges into the river, Chicago's Department of Sewers introduced an orange dye into the sewer system. Leaks from the sewer system were detectable as the dye flowed into the river. The interaction between the orange dye and the river's water created a bright, Irish, emerald green coloration.

The process of turning the Chicago River green For St. Paddy's Day evolved over time as city workers became inspired by the idea. City history records that Steven Bailey, the Business Manage of the Chicago Journeyman plumbers Local Union #110, witnessed one of the city plumbers uniforms stained with green stains. When asked where the stains originated, the plumber responded to Bailey with the story of the orange dye that turns green in water. Inspired by the color and the opportunity to promote the city, Bailey began experimenting with the process of turning the Chicago River green. The rest is history.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the cities of San Antonio, Texas and Dublin, Ireland flatter Chicago by copying the dying of their rivers. San Antonio, Texas, home of the famed Texas River Walk, lined by restaurants, shops, and bars, dyes the portion of the San Antonio River that flows through this commercial center as part of its annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. Dublin dyes the Liffey River in the same manner.

Chicago's Irish claim that it is actually Leprechaun magic that turns the Chicago River green each year. After all, the dye used by the city is orange, the color of Leprechaun gold. Perhaps this folklore is just blarney, perhaps its chemistry, or maybe it is Leprechaun magic after all. In 1961, Mayor Richard Daly ordered the use of dye to turn a portion of the river green as a means of impressing visitors to Chicago's St. Patrick's Day festivities.

Originally, 100 pounds of green vegetable dye were used to turn the river green. It remained so for a week. Conservation concerns motivated Chicago to use smaller amounts of dye over time as well as changing from an oil-based dye to a vegetable-based dye. Today's celebrations utilize 40 pounds of the vegetable dye, only keeping the river green for a few hours without harm to the waterway or water life. If only for a few hours, the replication of Emerald Green in the river magically enhances the city's St. Paddy's Day celebration to the pleasure of the city's citizens and visitors.

It's not just "blarney" that Chicago began the tradition of dying the river green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. It's a fact. Even if the Chicago mayor didn't kiss the Blarney Stone before ordering the Chicago river to turn green, it was an act of Irish magic that has enhanced the city's St. Patrick's Day celebration ever since.

Regardless of where the idea originated, St. Patrick's Day revelers love it. "Erin go bragh" or in English, "Ireland Forever" is symbolized by the magic associated with the wearing of the green, even if it is a river wearing it. A little inspiration, a little dye, a little Leprechaun magic, and the rivers turn green! "Top of the mornin' to ye!"

More about this author: James Lynne

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