Irish families, dancers and more celebrate Peoria's 40th annual St. Patrick's Day parade
For nearly two years, bits and pieces of the Brophy family’s St. Patrick's Day parade float sat inside Randy and Mary Couri’s garage.
That finally changed this week.
About 60 members of the Brophy family rode or walked alongside a giant glittering green and gold float, wearing matching sweatshirts and throwing beads and candy into crowds gathered along Peoria’s downtown streets.
The Brophy clan’s Peoria roots date back to the 1860s, so St. Patrick's Day is a big deal.
“Our family looks forward to this all year long,” Mary Couri said. “This is like our Irish Christmas. And we get to get together. We haven't been able to for the last two years. So this is really special.”
Peoria’s annual St. Patrick's Day parade is one of the city's largest public holiday celebrations; it was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the St. Patrick Society brought the parade back — and just in time to celebrate the event’s 40th anniversary.
The Brophys weren't the only ones who missed the parade over the last couple years. Thousands came out to watch on Thursday, lining the downtown route starting on Monroe Street, stretching down several blocks of Main Street and ending on Southwest Adams.
Multiple families of Irish descent had floats in the parade. The Hobin clan emigrated to Peoria from Ireland’s County Cork. Unlike the Brophys, the Hobin’s journey to central Illinois doesn’t date too far back.
“Mom and dad … were mother and dad to 10 of us,” Jinky Jockisch said. “And now there’s probably 200 immediate kids. And we’re all Irish.”
Jockisch said she loves the St. Patrick’s Day parade as it shows how supportive the Peoria community is of Irish immigrants.
“I love this day,” she said. “I could cry, because it is what makes everything special. We're a family-oriented generation, aren't we? We are.”
Becky Magarity’s family's Peoria roots date back to the 1700s. Entering the St. Patrick's Day parade had always been on her bucket list. So after the pandemic cancelled the last two parades, she decided 2022 was the year her family would make a float.
They crafted a mostly green float with bright yellow paper decorations. At the back of the float was a large rectangular sign colored with the green, white and orange of Ireland's flag, and the words, “Magarity clan — let the shenanigans begin.”
Magarity said she couldn’t believe how many Peorians showed up yesterday to watch the parade.
“We were here the last time they had it. And it definitely didn't have this many people. And it's such a beautiful day. The weather is great,” she said. “The feeling and the vibe here is just great. Everybody has been just so enthusiastic.”
The Brophy family has participated in the parade for 20 years. Mary Couri’s husband Randy is Lebanese, but on St. Patrick's Day, everyone's Irish.
“Oh, I married into the family, so it's expected of me to help,” he said.
In addition to storing the float in his garage for the last two years, Randy Couri added a Lebanese flag. He and and his wife wore pins that said, “Kiss Me I'm Lebanese,” with a green leprechaun riding a camel.
Randy Couri said both the Lebanese and Irish flourished in Peoria.
“There was so much work in the early 1900s and the late 1800s, that it was just a magnet,” he said. “They had all the breweries, distilleries. They had the railroad that came through. … The Irish blended in very well. They were always involved politically and socially with the whole community.”
Magarity said she's excited to make the parade an annual tradition for her family, especially for the youngest. Her grandson Charlie Roberts, 2, was the float’s youngest rider.
Some of Peoria's youngest Irish residents didn't ride floats during the parade — instead, they danced.
Vada Edwards, 7, and Emma Celley, 11, are members of the Flynn School of Irish Dance. They wore traditional Irish dresses and performed step dancing during the parade.
Both girls said they were excited to finally be able to perform after two years of the pandemic preventing live performances.
"It's awesome," said Celley, adding why she loves step dancing so much: "You get exercise even though sometimes you don't realize you're getting exercise, because you're having fun."
Ziona Hightower, 14, was excited to play music with the rest of the Roosevelt Magnet marching band and drum line.
"We're gonna play 'Roosevelt,' our school song, and our drummers will do some of their songs," she said. "This is our biggest parade, I think."
Several small business owners joined the parade, too. Thursday marked the 12th year Cassi Crum has participated; each year her business, Alter Ego Spa and Salon, has a different theme.
This year's theme was "inflate your ego.” Everyone wore inflatable costumes while walking their dogs.
“It’s something that we actually look forward to every single year, and to be able to do it again, and have all of our team together … It’s so awesome,” she said. “We’re so thankful we’re able to do this. And enjoy everybody smiling.”
Latrice Love is originally from Chicago, but has lived in Peoria for years. She said she tries to make it to the parade every year. Her favorite float is the prince and princess.
“I love it,” she said. “We get to all unite and have fun and enjoy a single thing, together. Everybody.”