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A little Michigan history and a lot of celebration for this St. Patrick's Day

corktown sign
Robert Duffner
Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Corktown is Detroit's oldest neighborhood and has a rich Irish history.

Michigan’s Irish traditions go back nearly 250 years.

The first Irish immigrants largely settled on the East Coast, in large cities like Boston and New York. But they soon started heading west.

Because Detroit was founded by the French, it was an established as a Catholic city, which was attractive to many of the Irish facing persecution by Protestants back home.

As the number of Irish immigrants to the U.S. skyrocketed in the mid-19th century, more and more Irish Catholics settled in Michigan. The first Irish church opened in Detroit in 1833, giving immigrants a place to gather and worship.

The Irish named their neighborhood Corktown, and it’s now the oldest neighborhood in Detroit. You can read about the history of the Irish in Detroit here.

Irish influence can still be found in Michigan today. Wexford, Roscommon, Clare, Antrim and Emmet counties are all named after counties in Ireland. When Irish fishermen settled on northern Michigan’s Beaver Island, they nicknamed it “America’s Emerald Isle.”

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across Michigan

The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Detroit was in 1808. This year, over 200 years later, thousands of people across the state will be participating in parades, bar tours, and heritage celebrations.

Some cities, like Detroit, held celebrations last weekend, but there are still St. Patrick’s Day parades happening in Bay City, Kalamazoo, Grand Ledge, Holland, and other cities this weekend.

For more kid-friendly activities, there are green-themed 5K races like Traverse City’s Leapin’ Leprechaun 5K or weekend-long events like Clare’s Irish Festival.

And for the grown-ups, there are plenty of places to track down a pint of Guinness. The Irish on Ionia street party in Grand Rapids starts at 7 a.m. on Saturday and features live music all day long. In Traverse City, the annual downtown pub walk starts at noon.

Traditional Irish music will also be playing across the state. TheGrand Rapids Symphony Orchestra is performing Celtic classics every night this weekend. A number of pubs around metro Detroit will feature live music, as well.

(A warning for any Irish Catholics: since St. Paddy’s is on a Lenten Friday this year, be sure to talk to your priest before eating any corned beef or shepherd’s pie. )

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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