For the first time in 59 years, the organizer of America’s Thanksgiving Parade will help spread St. Patrick’s cheer

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For the first time in its 59-year run, the annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Parade in Corktown is partnering with The Parade Company to spread the Irish spirit.

“We’re very thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them,” parade chair Michael Kelly says of The Parade Company, which organizes America’s Thanksgiving Parade. “They’re going to help us with marshals, radios and some organizational things.”

The parade in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Sunday from Michigan and Sixth to Roosevelt Park and hosted by the United Irish Societies, a group of 35 Metro Detroit organizations that vote on the parade’s grand marshal and theme. This year, Brian Dunleavy, owner of Dunleavy’s pub in Allen Park, has the grand marshal honor. The theme is “Corktown, The Heart and Home of Detroit Irish.”

Kelly estimates about 4,000 people will march in this year’s parade, including six high school bands from Metro Detroit. Then there’s the six celtic pipe and drum bands from Windsor, Detroit and Birmingham, and a morning 5k race that raises money for the St. Patrick’s Senior Center in Detroit and the KPMG Family for Literacy.

“It’s a family traditional day where we celebrate our Irish heritage but also recognize the members of the UIS for their support to the Irish community and city of Detroit through all the charity they do,” says Kelly, president of the United Irish Societies.

The Livonia resident has helped organize the parade the past 18 years and has attended since his parents pulled him in a wagon to see it as a kid. Now, he leads parade participants as they march down Michigan.

“My favorite thing is when I walk down the street and see the kids and families celebrating their Irish heritage,” he says.

Last year was the first time it rained on the paradegoers decked in green, which brought down attendance to 25,000, but “it didn’t dampen the spirits,” Kelly says.

If skies stay clear, organizers expect the standard 50,000 to 75,000-plus crowd to pack streets in the historically Irish neighborhood, where the parade has been held since 1985.

Tony Michaels, president and CEO of The Parade Company, said in a statement that “The Parade Company is honored to assist with the 2017 Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” which reached out to The Parade Company for help coordinating logistics.

“We look forward to joining thousands of families and friends for this fun-filled annual tradition in Corktown,” Michaels said.

Kelly is working on obtaining a nonprofit status, like The Parade Company has, so the Detroit St. Patrick’s Parade can more easily attain sponsors to cover costs. The 501(c)(3) will likely be established by next year’s parade, he says.

“Our costs continue to go up every year,” he says. “This year, we’re paying for the Detroit Police department, bike barricades along Michigan Avenue, the Downtown Detroit Partnership to clean up the parade after us. We have insurance costs we never used to have.”

The parade is largely funded through fundraisers. A kick-off event with Irish entertainment held last month raised over $5,000. The United Irish Societies also sells $100-$200 shamrocks that businesses or families can add their names to, which are posted on Michigan Avenue light posts for three weeks. Those brought in another $8,500. Advertisements in the Parade Times program book and a Detroit Tiger’s game fundraiser raised several grand more.

“Unfortunately, it’s not enough anymore to continue to cover all the costs of the parade,” Kelly says. “That’s one of the reasons we’re bringing The Parade Company in this year for their support and help.”

Grand Marshall Dunleavy, an Allen Park native and president of the Fraternal Order of United Irishmen, attests the event is “always getting bigger and better.”

Just one year younger than the parade, he’s attended every year. He’s also the third Dunleavy to hold the grand marshal title.

“My dad did it in 1990. My uncle did it in 1966. I’m the third Dunleavy to do it. I have that great honor,” he says.

As for his parade outfit, he has it all planned.

“You always wear a suit, and I’ll have my sash on and a hat and a cane,” he says.

The tweed hat, of course, is a green shade. “It’s a very nice hat.”

ssteinberg@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

59th annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Parade

12:30-2:30 p.m. Sunday

Starts: 6th at Michigan

Ends: Roosevelt Park

(313) 475-4675

detroitstpatricksparade.com

To donate, send checks payable to United Irish Societies

2068 Michigan Ave., Detroit, 48216

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