Metro Detroiters bring spirit of Irish to 61st St. Patrick's parade

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
Women dressed as Rosie the Riveter walk in the 61st annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on Michigan Avenue in Detroit on Mar. 10, 2019.

Detroit — It was horses versus humans in a competition to out-green each other at the 61st annual St. Patrick’s Parade Sunday.

Horses strutted down Michigan Avenue showing off neon-green-painted hooves with mounted police officers on their backs. 

Humans blinged out in sparkling green over-sized bow ties, ballet tutus and stovepipe hats, and strutted and swayed to the loud music blasting from speakers in the Onassis Coney Island parking lot or to the rhythms from the marching bands along the route. Some parade watchers simply wrapped in thick green blankets to shield themselves from the blustery winds and cold temperatures.

Green cups — of coffee or stronger libations — assisted in beating back the cold. Some visitors burned pit fires in parking lots.

The bravest souls arrived nearly an hour before the 1 p.m. start to position their chairs  right up to the barriers  through Corktown.

It was Jack Anthony’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“My friend invited me so I don’t know what to expect,” said Jack, 15, of Canton, wearing a huge green bowtie and a hood pulled close over his head for warmth. “I just hope it’s worth the wait.”

The friend, Dylan Wiza, 15, of Canton, wore a green hat decorated with shamrocks and a green beaded necktie. It was his second year visiting the parade.

“I like the marching bands and there’s a lot of spirit here,” he said.

His mom, Karen Wiza, seated with her daughter and friends, said they were expecting more friends to show up.

“We had a good time last year and we’ve been planning this for a while,” Wiza, wearing a green shamrock headband, said. “We hope it will become a tradition.”

The theme of Detroit’s 61st St. Patrick’s Parade was “Corktown: Where Detroit Meets Ireland.”

The gray skies did not seem to dampen spirits.

Michelle Hepburn of Bloomfield Hills sat in the bleachers in the Family Fun Zone with her daughter, Isla Hepburn, 8.

“I’ve been coming to the parade for 20 years,” she said. “It’s the best day of the year.”

She said her daughter has been attending the parade “since we used to bring her in a backpack when she was first born.”

Isla said she liked the horses and the music.

“We saw a rainbow horse earlier, and I like the bagpipes,” she said.

But why hold the parade the week before St. Patrick’s Day, which actually falls next Sunday, March 17? 

Parade chairman and United Irish Societies president Michael Kelly said it’s always held the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day as part of the United Iris Societies agreement in its bylaws.

Parade MC Fox 2’s M.L. Elrick, announcing the floats near the Family Fun Zone bleachers, had another take on why the parade was scheduled so early.

“Irish pub owners want to make sure they get two big days to shake you down — today and next Sunday,” he said, laughing into the microphone.

Behind the bleachers, Tigers mascot Paws posed for photos with families, while inside a heated tent, families sat at tables to eat or children gathered around to get their faces painted.

In addition to the bands and floats, the parade route included Ford Model Ts and grand marshals Paul and Agnes Gowdy, Metro Detroiters born in Ireland who have been active in the local Irish community for years.

This year marks the first that Ford Motor Co. was nearby. The company is investing $740 million into a 1.2 million-square-foot Corktown campus for 5,000 of its workers at the Michigan Central Depot.

Before the parade kicked off, a 10 a.m. Mass was held at nearby Most Holy Trinity church, followed by the Corktown Races 5K run/walk.