Meet the queen of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade
Maura Connors, AB’15, loves soda bread and thinks all Irish people look good in green.
This Saturday, March 11, Chicago will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a parade downtown, a tradition since 1955. Always held the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, the parade begins at Balbo and Columbus Drives and runs north up Columbus.
The holiday, which commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, is celebrated on March 17, the traditional date of St. Patrick’s death. Lenten restrictions on drinking alcohol are lifted for the day, so beer—whether dyed green or its natural color—is okay.
The Magazine recently spoke with Maura Connors, AB’15, queen of the 2017 parade. Her comments below have been condensed and edited.
The queen of the St. Patrick’s Day parade gets to keep the crown and the handmade satin cape. (Photo courtesy Maura Connors)
Is being Irish American an important part of your identity?
I grew up in Beverly, on the South Side of Chicago, which is known for its Irish community. St. Patrick’s Day was a big holiday in my family, on par with the Fourth of July. We went to the parade downtown every year and came together, usually at my grandmother’s house, for a traditional Irish meal.
I did Irish dance for a long time. Pretty much everyone in my neighborhood did Irish dance at some point.
Have you been to Ireland?
No. I’ve always wanted to go. With the queen’s competition I won a trip to Ireland. I’ll be visiting County Cork, because the mayor of Cork is one of the sponsors of the St. Patrick’s parade queen. And I definitely want to go to Dublin, Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher.
How is the queen chosen?
You have to be between the ages of 18 and 28, unmarried, and Irish. Those are the only requirements. There are usually 100 women in the competition each year.
There are a few rounds where you are talking with judges. There’s one round where you just introduce yourself on the microphone. In later rounds, you have one-on-one conversations with the judges, who are local union leaders and other prominent Irish Chicagoans. The Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130 sponsors the parade.
There’s no talent competition or anything like that. They’re looking for someone with poise who will represent the Irish community well.
The court is the top four women, and the queen is first place. I was on the court last year. We probably went to 50 events.
Connors and her court. (Photo courtesy Maura Connors)
How do they define “Irish”?
They take your word for it. A person on the court last year had a very German last name.
What’s it like to be in the parade?
Last year they had convertibles for us. That was really fun.
The queen rides in a horse-drawn carriage. I’m hoping to bring my sister Fiona and my cousin Faith with me—they’re both 12—and our new puppy, Lucy.
Besides the parade, what kind of events do you go to?
We go to City Hall every year, do various charity events. The Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Sox game is around September 17. The queen gets to throw out the first pitch.
Can you make it over the plate?
No. My dad used to play baseball, so he said he would help me.
I’m also going to a Blackhawks game where I get to shoot the puck. I need to practice that too.
When did your family come over?
Both sides moved to Chicago in the mid to late 1800s. A majority of my family remains in Chicago and has been here for five to six generations.
You majored in geographical studies. Did you write a BA paper?
My BA was about the 606 trail in Chicago and how artists bring in gentrification. I wrote about the increase in housing prices, the change in community, businesses coming in. I used the High Line in New York, which is a similar type of park, as a key study.
And now you work in College Admissions.
I’m an admissions counselor. I travel around the country, mainly the Midwest, talking to prospective students and visiting high schools.
That sounds like good practice for your responsibilities as parade queen. Are you an extroverted person?
I think I’ve learned to be that way.