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Saturday, March 16, 2024

Chicago's Enchanting Tradition: Dyeing the River Green for St. Patrick's Day

  Rajesh Kumar Rana       Saturday, March 16, 2024

Every year, Chicago transforms into a verdant wonderland, celebrating its Irish heritage with a unique tradition: dyeing the Chicago River a vibrant green. This festive spectacle marks the official kick-off to St. Patrick's Day festivities in the city, attracting locals and tourists alike. 

This article delves into the history, details, and surrounding merriment of this iconic tradition, ensuring you have all the information to fully embrace the emerald spirit of Chicago's St. Patrick's Day.

Chicago River Green 2024

Chicago River Green 2024
The Chicago River turns green for St. Patrick's Day-2024.
Source: Flickr

A Tradition Steeped in History: The Chicago Plumbers Union and the Green Hue

The story behind the green river goes back to 1952. According to the Chicago Plumbers Union, Local 130, the tradition began with a plumbing mishap.  While attempting to locate a leak, a plumber, by the name of  Mr. Eugene Moriarty, accidentally dyed the river green with fluorescein, a harmless dye commonly used for tracing leaks. The vibrant green color surprisingly captured the hearts of the public, and thus, a beloved Chicago tradition was born.

The Plumbers Union, recognizing the public's delight, embraced the responsibility of dyeing the river green every St. Patrick's Day.  While the exact recipe for the dye remains a closely guarded secret, the union assures the public that the dye is environmentally safe and fades naturally within a day or two. 

Witnessing the Magic: When and Where

The dyeing ceremony typically takes place on the Saturday before St. Patrick's DayIn 2024, mark your calendars for March 16th! The exact time of the dyeing may vary slightly from year to year, but it usually happens in the morning. The best vantage points to witness this spectacle depend on your preference. Here are a few options:

  • The Riverwalk: This scenic walkway that follows the Chicago River offers stunning views of the water. Popular spots include the areas near Michigan Avenue, Wacker Drive, and LaSalle Street bridges.
  • Bridge overlooks: Several bridges along the river, like the Michigan Avenue Bridge and the Chicago Riverwalk Bridge, provide elevated viewing platforms.
  • River Cruises: Take your experience to the next level with a festive St. Patrick's Day river cruise. Enjoy themed cocktails, Irish music, and a front-row seat to the dyeing ceremony as you cruise along the emerald-hued river.

Beyond the Green: Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

The dyeing of the Chicago River is just the beginning of the St. Patrick's Day festivities in Chicago. The city comes alive with a vibrant celebration of Irish culture, offering a variety of events and activities:

  • Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade: Witness a spectacle of colorful floats, marching bands, and Irish cultural performances at the iconic Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade.  Tickets for prime viewing spots are available online.
  • South Side Irish Parade: Immerse yourself in the rich heritage of Chicago's South Side Irish community at their annual parade held on Sunday, March 17th.
  • St. Patrick's Day Bar Crawl: Don your green attire and join the lively bar crawls happening throughout the city. These themed pub crawls offer a fun way to experience Chicago's vibrant nightlife with a festive twist.
  • Irish Pubs and Restaurants: Chicago boasts a thriving Irish community with numerous authentic pubs and restaurants. Savor traditional Irish fare, enjoy live music, and soak up the festive atmosphere.

Embrace the Spirit: Tips for a Memorable St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

To make the most of your St. Patrick's Day experience in Chicago, consider these tips:

  • Dress in Green: Embrace the spirit by wearing your favorite green attire. 
  • Plan Your Transportation: Chicago can get crowded during St. Patrick's Day. Consider using public transportation or ride-sharing services to avoid traffic congestion.
  • Book Your Accommodations in Advance:  Hotels tend to fill up quickly during St. Patrick's Day weekend. Book your accommodation well in advance to secure your desired location.
  • Embrace the Unexpected:  Chicago offers a variety of hidden gems and unexpected delights.  Be open to exploring different neighborhoods and discovering your own unique St. Patrick's Day experience.

With its iconic green river, vibrant parades, and thriving Irish culture, Chicago offers a truly unforgettable St. Patrick's Day experience. 

Don't Miss Out on the Festivities!

In addition to the river dyeing, Chicago hosts a variety of St. Patrick's Day events and celebrations throughout the weekend. From the South Side Irish Parade to the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade, there's no shortage of festive fun to be had. Be sure to check out the St. Patrick's Day bar crawl and other festivities to make the most of your weekend in the Windy City.


1. Who Dyes the River Green?

The Chicago Plumbers Union, Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 130, holds the honor of dyeing the river green. They've been carrying on this tradition for decades, with 2024 marking their 69th year!

2. When Does the Dyeing Happen?

Mark your calendars! The Chicago River gets dyed green on Saturday, March 16th, 2024

3. How is the River Dyed?

While the exact details of the dyeing process remain a closely guarded secret, the Chicago Plumbers Union employs environmentally friendly vegetable dye to achieve the vibrant green hue. This dye is carefully dispersed into the river, creating a stunning visual display that captivates onlookers along the riverbanks and beyond.

4. What Time Does the River Get Dyed Green?

The exact timing of the river dyeing varies each year, but it typically occurs in the morning hours before the start of the St. Patrick's Day festivities. Spectators are encouraged to arrive early to secure prime viewing spots along the riverfront and witness the magical transformation unfold.

5. Where Can You Watch the Dyeing?

There are several vantage points along the Chicago River where spectators can gather to watch the dyeing process. Popular viewing spots include bridges, riverfront parks, and designated viewing areas along the riverwalk. Be sure to arrive early to secure your spot and get the best view of this iconic Chicago tradition.

6. How Long Does the Green Last?

While the festivities last all day, the vibrant green hue graces the river for a few hours. The exact duration remains a bit of a secret, but it's enough time to capture some stunning photos and soak in the festive atmosphere.


The annual Chicago River dyeing for St. Patrick's Day is a beloved tradition that never fails to captivate audiences and ignite the spirit of celebration throughout the city. Whether you're a local or a visitor, don't miss your chance to witness this iconic event and join in the festivities as Chicago comes alive with the luck of the Irish.


Thanks for reading Chicago's Enchanting Tradition: Dyeing the River Green for St. Patrick's Day

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