As a child, MacKenzie Ridge participated in the Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade—sometimes from atop her dad’s shoulders.
She always looked up to the Miss Smiling Irish Eyes queen and dreamt of someday wearing the crown.
On Saturday, Ridge, 19, of Mt. Lebanon, will ride in the back of a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Pittsburgh, after being named the 2022 Miss Smiling Irish Eyes queen.
“It was such an honor,” Ridge said of the recognition. “It was something that was surreal, because I looked up to them when I was younger. I really thought that they were queens of the world and now I am her.”
Miss Smiling Irish Eyes has been a Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day staple for the past 60 years. The award, presented by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, recognizes a “distinguished young woman who proudly represents her Irish heritage throughout all areas of her life,” according to the AOH website.
In her application, Ridge listed her many accomplishments while at Mt. Lebanon High School, including student body president her junior and senior years, commencement speaker for the Class of 2021, yearbook editor in chief and serving as a captain in the school’s Best Buddies program, Lebo Stars. She received a full ride to the University of North Carolina Charlotte through the Levine Scholars Program. She is majoring in political science and English, with a minor in history. She has plans for law school someday.
Ridge lives in Mt. Lebanon with her dad, Dan, Theodan Drive, and mom, Brydie, Firwood Drive.
Ridge has a deep Irish heritage. Both of her parents are Irish. Her dad is a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 1, and serves on the parade committee. Ridge is a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 11.
In the AOH, their motto is “friendship, unity and Christian charity.” For Ridge, that encompasses a large part of why she aspired to be Miss Smiling Irish Eyes, she said.
She has a great deal of pride for her Irish heritage.
“My biggest sense of Irish community comes from the people that my dad surrounded me with when I was younger. We call them my ‘uncles,’” she said. “That is truly the essence of being Pittsburgh Irish—knowing that you have people behind you and I’ve been able to feel that since I was a little girl.”
On Saturday, Ridge will attend mass at St. Patrick’s Church, then ride in the parade. She has several events she plans to attend in the afternoon.
“My dad always says it’s like Christmas for us. It really is. That’s the biggest day of the year for us, parade day,” Ridge said. “It’s just a sense of pride that you really can’t recreate anywhere else. I’m so grateful and honored to be chosen to represent the people who made me who I truly am.”