Detroit —Rain showers couldn’t dampen the spirit of the Irish on Sunday, as revelers descended on Corktown to continue traditions, honor heritage and celebrate Detroit during the annual St. Patrick’s Parade.
“My dad brought me, I brought my kids, now I got grandkids,” said Joe Gough, a 61-year-old Chelsea resident who’s been coming to the parade since he was a young boy. “The best thing about the parade is the kids. The kids have a blast here. It’s just a great thing for them to appreciate their Irish heritage.”
Now in its 58th year, Detroit’s St. Patrick celebration is held every year on the Sunday before March 17th, starting early in the morning with a 5K run, followed by the parade that features marching bands, color guard units, floats, clowns, and dignitaries.
The sounds of bagpipes were heard long before the parade began at noon, along with the padding of thousands of runners who began the race at Michigan Central Station, clad in green and shamrocks.
Ten thousand runners registered this year — up from 9,500 from last year. Among them was Kelly Sutherland, a Westland native now living downtown. She ran her first 5K.
“It was exciting,” said Sutherland. “It felt very festive even though the weather was a little down.”
A light rain started in downtown Detroit around 6:30 a.m. and continued through the end of the parade, with temperatures hovering in the mid 40s, according to the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.
That cut dramatically into this year’s attendance, parade officials said. Normally, attendance can reach upwards of 75,000 people. But this year, attendance estimates hovered closer to 25,000, including the runners.
But that didn’t discourage some, including Allen Park resident Dennis Hayes, who was a grand marshal in the parade in 2012.
“It’s just a nice soft day, as they say in Ireland,” Hayes said before the parade. “When it rains like this, they call it a soft day. That’s what we’re going to march in and we’re happy for it. Because this is the kind of weather we would experience in our ancestral homeland. It’s nothing to the Irish. Maybe to the strangers, but not us.”
Normally, parade-watchers would have been lining Michigan Avenue hours before the start of the parade. But this year, the rain nudged people inside to eat corned beef, drink beverages and stay dry.
Meredith Santana and her newlywed husband, Manuel, came out for the first time after hearing friends talk about it the year before. They stopped first at Detroit Institute of Bagels.
“We had to see what it was all about,” said Santana, 25, of Livonia. “So far, so good. I love that the parade seems to have so much Detroit pride. And lots of Irish love.”
Kitty Heinzman, the founder of the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance in Livonia, served as the parade’s grand marshall. Other dignitaries marched in the parade along with several from the motherland including Chicago-based Consul General of Ireland Orla McBreen; Cork County, Ireland Mayor John Paul O’Shea and Minister of State for the Diaspora, Jimmy Dennihan.
“We run a great parade,” said Mike Kelly, co-chair. “We’re known around the world for our efforts in the Detroit community and how big the Irish community is in the metropolitan area. This is a traditional day for us, where we celebrate the patron saint of Ireland.”
Kelly said that the parade is also a time to recognize the 35 member groups of the United Irish Societies, which raise the $60,000 to put on the parade and other funds.
“They basically work all year long raising funds and donating to charitable organizations in the metropolitan area,” Kelly said. “We came to Detroit a long time ago ... The Irish people built the city of Detroit. And now we get credit for what we are doing internationally. Detroit is turning around and people want to be a part of our St. Patrick’s Day and our traditions.”
When the parade began at noon, the streets began to flood with people sporting green and rain gear, and some hid under an umbrella.
Greg and Toni Nelson, of West Bloomfield, were among the sea of umbrellas along Michigan Avenue, continuing a 10-year tradition that even rain couldn’t stop.
‘We just love Detroit,” Toni Nelson said.