To most Americans, St. Patrick’s Day is nothing more than another
drinking holiday à la Super Bowl Sunday. But to many Irish-Americans, it
is more than just a day to drink green beer. It is a time to celebrate
Irish heritage, to pass along family history to a younger generation
and to participate in tradition.
Corktown’s Gaelic League
serves as the meeting place for Metro Detroit’s Irish community, so it
is fitting that it is central HQ for the many events associated with
St. Patrick’s Day and the annual parade held the Sunday prior.
day, Sunday, March 11 this year, is truly one of Detroit’s most fun annual
events. The Corktown event is nothing like the big Thanksgiving Day parade downtown: It is rag-tag,
humble and often silly — not to say that it isn’t also proud and dignified
sometimes, too. Floats are often nothing more than the unadorned bed of a
pick-up truck and a few scattered marchers, or just an extended family walking down
Michigan Avenue together. Nevertheless, everyone in the parade is laughing, waving to
family and friends and tossing beads and candy to the crowd.
Music ranges from local high schools
showing their stripes to the more traditional Irish sounds of bagpipers.Fun for kids of all ages
The parade starts at 2 p.m. and runs along
Michigan Avenue between Sixth and 14th streets. The crowd is
thickest on the north side of the street (because, um, that’s where
most of the bars are), so if you have young-uns, it might be best to
set up camp on the south side. Feel free to bring chairs, snacks,
beverages, or whatever will make your afternoon more pleasant and
For Joan O’Halloran’s family, parade Sunday starts
earlier in the day, with 10:30 a.m. mass at St. Patrick’s Church (at 58 Parsons in Midtown, behind Orchestra Hall). "We
try to make it a family day," she says. "We dress ‘in Irish,’ learn a little bit
about our heritage and have mass at St. Pat's." She says her
grandchildren love the candy and beads and walking in the parade. "They
really enjoy the day."
Another way to participate in the
festivities is to lace up your running shoes for the annual Corktown Races
held before the parade at noon. The four-miler — run by the seriously
fit and the “just-making-it-across-the-line” alike — starts and finishes
at Michigan Central Station on Michigan Avenue and loops Campus Martius and Comerica Park.
Those not up for that length of run have the option of a 1.5 mile walk, and kids can run too — their ¼-mile starts at 11:30 am.
a member of metro Detroit’s Irish community, there is no higher honor
than being named grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Parade. The parade
is put on by the United Irish Societies, an umbrella organization of
the many area Irish organizations. Each October, they select the
following year’s grand marshal. "It is somebody that
has really worked in putting on the parade and has worked in the Irish
community, has promoted what we believe in," says O’Halloran, whose husband has been so recognized. "It's a very, very high
honor. You have to really pay your dues."
This year’s honoree is Curtis Anderson, a local Realtor who has long served as the
vice-president of the UIS and has overseen the
construction of the shamrocks that line the parade route for many
The painting of those shamrocks is another annual event
held the Friday prior to the parade, this year March 9. All day,
volunteers take turns painting the wooden shamrocks that are then hung
from Michigan Avenue streetlights.
One more parade tradition is
the Maid of Erin float. The Maid is selected from a court of young
women of Irish heritage who are judged on poise and appearance,
knowledge of Irish heritage, talent and their accomplishments and
participation in extra-curricular activities and organizations.
Rennie, one of the Maid of Erin’s organizers, explains the UIS’s
motivation for the pageant: "So many of our young people are proud of
their Irish heritage. It's good to keep things alive, to let them know
what has gone on in days past. With any heritage, not just Irish, it's
so important to pass it on to kids, so they know where they came from."Food, drink and music
you get cold or wet—this is Michigan in March, after all—you can pop
into one of the many bars that line the route—from Lager House
east to Slow's
to the west. Three of the most popular places to hang
out and warm up (and maybe, get a Guinness) are Nemo's
, Baile Corcaigh
and of course, the Gaelic League. They all have heated tents, music and
Another perennial favorite is Nancy Whiskey's
in North Corktown, Nancy’s hosts a full-on party that takes over both
floors of the building and the outside. People walking back and forth
to Nancy’s from the parade give the I-75 pedestrian overpass the most
traffic it sees all year.Off the parade route
Other ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Detroit:
• The DSO presents seven performances of Celtic Celebration March 15-18 at the Max. M Fisher Music Center. The shows
feature the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and special guest Natalie
MacMaster. MacMaster is a renowned Canadian fiddler who specializes in
traditional Celtic music.
• Most Holy Trinity Church marks St. Patrick’s
Day with the Sharin’ o’ the Green charity luncheon held from 1:30-5:30
p.m. at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on Porter between 8th and Trumbull in
Corktown. The $30 donation, which benefits Most Holy Trinity Elementary
School, includes an Irish buffet, entertainment and beer and wine. The
event honors the parish’s “Good Samaritans”—this year, Wayne County
Executive Robert Ficano and two exceptional volunteers, lawyer Larry
Johnson and doctor Marianna Manion.
• Also on St. Patrick’s Day,
Detroit’s newest Irish pub and restaurant, McNarney's Public House
opens its doors to the world.
Kelli B. Kavanaugh is development news editor for Model D and writes about sustainability for Model D and metromode.
All Photographs of the 2006 Saint Patrick's Parade
Copyright Walter Wasacz