Monday, March 11, 2013

Visiting Irish "Corktown" in Detroit, MI

With St. Patrick's Day approaching, my hubby recently accompanied me to the small, surviving remnant of Detroit's oldest neighborhood called, "Corktown."  In the mid-nineteenth century, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in Detroit, due to their homeland's 1840's Potato Famine.  1 out 7 persons were Irish.  Since many came from County Cork, their neighborhood became known as "Corktown." 

The neighborhood [which over time has drastically been reduced to roughly one square mile] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is designated as a City of Detroit Historic District.  Today, the neighborhood includes about 300 structures [mostly private residences and a few commercial buildings] for just over 2,000 people.

Several signs, like the ones in the picture above and below, are strategically placed throughout Corktown.  This photo was taken on Bagley Street, the southern border of Corktown.  It was a beautiful, sun-shiny day for visiting.

The neighborhood's housing style ranges from small Irish workman's cottages, to neo-Georgian townhouses, and Victorian-era rowhouses built close to each other on narrow 25-foot lots extending about a 130 ft. from the front sidewalk to the back alley - a land pattern that dates back to London over 300 years ago.

The houses below are on Church Street.  While some of the houses have been beautifully restored, many others are in need of repair and renovations.  How fun to take a peek into Irish history.

Isn't this little cottage-style house a renovated beauty?

The house next door.

Michigan Avenue is Corktown's "main drag."  It once bustled with traffic, especially during baseball season when Detroit Tiger Stadium was still one of Corktown's crown jewels.   It was demolished in 2009 and now all that remains is a large vacant field [which they call Ernie Harwell Park] and a flagpole with two flags waving in the breeze... 

and a few ballpark entrance gates that are left standing on Michigan Avenue.  [The Detroit Tigers now play ball at the new Comerica Park Stadium not far from Corktown.]

We had lunch at O'Blivions, located at 1800 Michigan Avenue.  They only do a lunch business 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m, but the place was packed while we were there.  Corktown is just west of downtown Detroit.

Photo below is courtesy of the O'Blivions' website as it was too busy to take interior photographs of the restaurant while we were there.

Jerry had fish and chips...

and I had a Reuben sandwich.  Both were very good.

Vintage police phone box inside the entrance of O'Blivions.

The building sign on the far left below gives the date of Detroit's 2013 St. Patrick's Day parade [which was yesterday, Sunday, March 10th].

It was Detroit's 55th St. Patrick's parade, sponsored by the United Irish Societies, made up of Irish organizations across the Detroit metro area.  The Corktown parade route is predominately Michigan Avenue.   In 2012 over 65,000 people attended the parade.

[Internet parade photos]

The "luck of the Irish" is credited for sparing Corktown from total destruction by urban-renewal, the construction of two Detroit freeways, and more recently the building of three casinos with accompanying hotels and parking structures.

Corktown had two tea rooms, O'Leary's and Fiona's, but both are gone now.  In the late 1990's when I first became smitten with tea, I went to O'Leary's.  Regrettably, I didn't take any photos.  Mrs. O'Leary, now deceased, closed her tea room when the casinos opened.  

Fiona's, a two room tea house, was located in an 1879 ivy-covered Victorian Cottage nestled among a sea of concrete freeway ramps, parking lots, and high rise office buildings. The landlord sold the cottage to MGM casino for the construction of a hotel, and Fiona's became history.  The tea room had rave reviews, and I've regretted many times that I never went.

[Internet Photo]

Today, the trendy Astro coffee shop serves tea in Corktown, and plans are in the making for an "Arts and Culture Tea House" to open sometime in 2013.  I'll be watching for it!


  1. Love the name of your lunch spot! Sounds like a fun place to visit.

  2. The kids were talking about Corktown yesterday at dinner. When I was born, Mom and Dad lived at 18th and Bagley.

  3. Loved hearing the history of Corktown, and that tiny cottage is fabulous!


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