St. Patrick’s Day on Mackinac Island

People all over the world observe St. Patrick’s Day every March 17. What began as a religious holiday honoring the fifth-century saint who brought Christianity to Ireland has evolved through the centuries into a general celebration of Irish culture. These days, whether people are Irish or not, they wear green, march in parades and enjoy a beverage or two on St. Patrick’s Day.

On Mackinac Island, there’s a strong historic link to Ireland that makes St. Patrick’s Day festivities all the more authentic. As far back as 1805, Irish soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac were freed from duty to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. “Interestingly, all the troops except the Irish ‘were to be sober’ on the 17th of March,” Mackinac Island historian Keith Widder writes in his account of soldier life at Fort Mackinac.

Yes, there was a strong French presence on Mackinac Island going back to the 1700s and it was the British who moved Fort Mackinac to Mackinac Island’s high bluffs. Yet, it was Irish immigrants who perhaps have played an even bigger role in making Mackinac Island what it is today.

Did you know that many of today’s tourist destinations on Mackinac Island were founded by Irish families?

Irish immigrants made a lasting impact on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island attractions with Irish ties

It goes all the way back to 1852 when Irishman Charles O’Malley built Mackinac Island’s Island House Hotel. It was one of the first summer hotels on Mackinac Island and today remains a popular place to stay – ranked among the top 10 hotels in the entire Midwest.

As the military significance of Fort Mackinac waned through the middle of the 19th century, it was the Island House and other Irish-owned places to stay that helped Mackinac Island blossom into a popular tourist attraction. Bogan Lane Inn, the Murray House hotel and the Cloghaun B&B also were founded by Irish who came to Mackinac Island to escape their homeland’s Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s. In fact, the Cloghaun was started by Thomas and Bridget Donnelly, whose uncle was O’Malley.

Another Mackinac Island destination with Irish ties is the Inn at Stonecliffe, a luxurious hotel on the West Bluff that recently underwent a $30 million renovation. The mansion was built in the early 1900s by Michael Cudahy, who like so many other Irish immigrants came to the United States during the potato famine. One of the restaurants at The Inn at Stonecliffe is named after Cudahy.

Yet another Irish immigrant who came to Mackinac Island during the potato famine was Stephen O’Doud. That name, shortened over the years to Doud, remains very notable on Mackinac Island. Doud’s Market, which dates to 1884 and is the oldest grocery store in the country, was started by Stephen O’Doud’s sons, James and Patrick. Patrick also worked as a contractor and built several cottages and homes on Mackinac Island including the Michigan Governor’s Summer Residence and the Windermere Hotel. A downtown Mackinac Island restaurant, Patrick Doud’s Irish Pub, is named after him. Meanwhile, James’ granddaughter, Margaret Doud, has served as mayor of Mackinac Island for nearly 50 years, making her the longest-serving mayor in America!

Because St. Patrick’s Day is on the calendar in March before the visitor season kicks into gear, festivities on Mackinac Island typically involve only year-round residents (although guests are welcome on Mackinac Island in the offseason). But whenever you visit, any time of year, remember the Irish impact on Mackinac Island and offer a toast to St. Patrick.

Cheers!

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