March 11, 2020
When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day in Detroit, no neighborhood celebrates harder than Corktown. The city’s oldest surviving neighborhood has a very Irish history and a very Irish name. Corktown was first settled by Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 40s, fleeing the Great Irish Potato Famine and by the early 1850s, half of the residents of the 8th Ward (which contained Corktown) were of Irish descent. Many of these immigrants hailed from County Cork, Ireland, and their hometown name made the voyage with them.
Today, Corktown is still strongly connected with its Irish roots, present in the many Irish establishments throughout the neighborhood, and of course in its annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Corktown offers many ways to celebrate this beloved Irish holiday. From participating in one of the Corktown Races to watching the annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or simply just hitting up one of the many bars, pubs, and restaurants with Irish ties scattered around the neighborhood.
The Corktown Race made its debut in 1983 and has since become one of the largest 5km races in Michigan, with steady growth to over 8,000 participants. The event is owned and operated by the Fraternal Order of United Irishmen.
In 2009, after over two decades of starting at Tiger Stadium and finishing at the Gaelic League, the course was relocated to the Michigan Central Train Depot for a common start and finish. And in 2010, the run and walk were combined to a 5km, enabling the race to stay almost completely on the Parade route. Today, the Corktown Races have expanded to four different events, for people of all ages and at all levels of athleticism: the Emerald Mile, the Corktown race, the Dublin Double, and the Kids Quarter Mile.
The race is always held the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day to give area businesses a bigger chance for additional patronage. In addition to attracting more people to the following parade, the race is also a vehicle for raising funds for the Saint Patrick’s Senior Center, the only remaining community-based health clinic for seniors in the city of Detroit.
Directly following the Corktown Races is the annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade, one of the largest St. Patrick’s parades in the country, expected to attract up to 100,000 people. The United Irish Societies (UIS), made up of more than 35 Irish organizations across the Detroit area, has hosted the annual parade since 1958.
Guests don’t have to be Irish to appreciate this tradition, which held its first parade in Dearborn before relocating to Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The event brings together people of all types and ages in Metro Detroit to celebrate Ireland with culture, food, and fun.
Expect to see giant floats, a marching band, pipe and drum bands, color guards, clowns, novelty groups, and marching units. The parade is also family-friendly and offers a family fun zone for guests with younger children. It is the only place guests can observe the parade from grandstands in a reserved area. In addition, there will be live Irish entertainment, inflatable amusements, food service, and Irish step dancing.
The parade participates in philanthropic efforts and this year will benefit Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Senior Center, Bridges Beyond Boxing, the Solanus Casey Center, and the UIS Scholarship Fund.
For those looking to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the traditional Irish manner—drinking from sun up to sunset, and beyond that—Corktown houses many establishments with strong connections to their Irish heritage.
From a 7:00 a.m. (for those who are ready to start bright and early) traditional Irish breakfast at Nancy Whiskey’s to cheap drinks at Corktown Tavern, a stop at the Gaelic League for live music, Irish dancing, and some of the best corned beef and cabbage in Detroit, or one of the many staple Corktown bars—visitors can spend the entire day in the neighborhood, just jumping from one spot to another.
For a complete rundown of a true Corktown St. Paddy’s Day, check out our resident expert Devon O’Reilly’s detailed drinking and dining itinerary.