03/11/2012 08:32 am ET

Detroit's St. Patrick's Day Parade Marks 54th Year

A river of green shirts, flags and hats will stream down Michigan Avenue Sunday as Corktown celebrates Detroit's 54th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The two-hour parade is sponsored by the United Irish Societies, a coalition of Irish heritage groups that include the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the Gaelic League and Irish-American Club of Detroit and many others.

Organizers expect about 40,000 people to participate in the festivities. Several Iraq War veterans will start the parade, which will be Grand Marshaled by Dennis Hayes, a former president of the United Irish Societies. Participants will also include mounted police, marching pipe and drum bands, color guard units, floats and an appearance by a leprechaun named Shenanigan.

This year's theme is "From Faith and Fatherland to a New World."

At noon, before the parade, the 30th annual Corktown Race, a 5 kilometer contest that starts and finishes at Roosevelt Park in front of the old Michigan Central train station. Last year, the race had a record 6,000 runners. A kid's quarter-mile race will begin at the same location at 11:30 a.m.

Corktown is Detroit's oldest neighborhood and the traditional home of the city's Irish population, though few of the original families remain today. But Sam Aldridge, one of the parade's co-chairs, believes the neighborhood maintains a strong connection to its heritage thanks to institutions like the Gaelic League and Irish-owned establishments like Nemo's, Casey's Pub and Slows Bar-B-Q.

He said the parade is always held the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day in order to help give businesses on Michigan Avenue a "double bang," since the holiday itself is already a great revenue day.

Sunday will also mark the grand opening of the Mercury Burger Bar. The eatery is located next to the old train station and across from Slows Bar-B-Q. It was formerly the home of the Mercury Coffee Bar, which closed in 2009.

The 54th Annual Detroit St. Patrick's Day parade will begin at 2 p.m. on Michigan Ave. and 6th Street and proceed down Michigan Ave., dispersing at 14th Street around 4p.m.