Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day is not one of the biggest in the U.S. but it is among the oldest. City historian Silas Farmer recorded that the very first St. Patrick’s Day in Detroit was in 1808.
In the early years, the holiday was a religious event. Later, the civic function was emphasized and the parade and banquets became more citywide, with residents of French and German heritage attending the festivities and Polish bands marching in some parades.
Father Patrick O’Sullivan raised the cross high above his head and, to the skirling of bagpipes and the solemn tolling of bells, stepped out the front door of St. Monica’s parish church in northwest Detroit on March 17, 1958 — and into history. The parishioners circumnavigated the church for a total of nine blocks, then returned for Mass and a light breakfast.
This was Detroit’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade in nearly 50 years, and it went mostly unremarked at the time.
But Father O’Sullivan was obviously keyed into something. The following year, the parade moved to Dearborn, attracting around 3,000 visitors. In 1960, 48 marching units, accompanied by 19 bands and 16 floats, established a Detroit parade route south on Woodward Avenue from Brush Park to Campus Martius.
And it has only grown from there.
Although the current parade route, in Corktown since 1985, is fairly well established by now, marchers and spectators know well that March in Michigan can bring weather extremes and the occasional unexpected obstacle. A caution from a 1900 parade route announcement applies equally now: “The condition of the streets,” whether clogged by mud or partygoers, “will influence the route very materially.”
All are welcome to participate.
Bill Loomis, “Irish helped form Detroit for centuries”, Detroit News, March 17, 2015.
Mickey Lyons, “Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary“, Hour Detroit, March 2018. A look back at the party’s history