Green Rivers are St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

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Even though the first color associated with St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was blue, eventually green became the hue of choice to commemorate his work and the holiday established in his honor. Because Ireland is dominated by green, rolling hills, the country is affectionately known as the Emerald Isle. And green clothing and decorations have become the standard each March during St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

It is one thing to drink a green beer or paint a green shamrock on your cheek, but dyeing an entire river green is an immense and awe-inspiring homage to St. Patrick’s Day. Since 1962, the vast undertaking of dyeing a river a bright shade of green has been a St. Patrick’s Day tradition in Chicago. Tom Rowan, a 76-year-old retired police officer, handles the task, and his methods are top secret. The Chicago River has been transformed into a verdigris waterway every year, with the exception of 2020, when COVID-19 halted holiday plans. However, someone other than Rowan managed to dye portions of the river green in 2020.

While the Chicago River is the most prominent green river on St. Patrick’s Day, others currently emulate the same effects or have done so in the past. The Irish Marching Society decided to bring the tradition to Rockford, Ill., and dye Rock River last year. San Antonio, TX; Savannah, GA; Indianapolis, IN; Charlotte, NC; Tampa, FL; and Washington, D.C. all have dyed various rivers green. In 2020, city officials in Dublin, Ireland, intended to dye the River Liffey green as well.

Nontoxic dyes and environmentally safe products are used to produce the green hues. Some stick around for a few hours, while others may last for days until they dissipate. While they last, green rivers can produce dramatic effects that are fun to behold.