A third-generation mason, Sean Brogan works the graveyard shift, pouring concrete at construction sites until eight in the morning. After 12 years, he's used to hitting the bars when the rest of the world is tackling morning rush hour.
But every March 17, Brogan asks for the night off to be at the Union Club Tavern (2549 St. Clair Avenue; 216-621-6627) at 6:30 a.m., when owner Cliff Noble throws open the doors. "A lot of us are Irish, but there are a few who are Irish for a day," Brogan says of his pre-St. Patrick's Day Parade ritual. "And you know which girls are Irish, because of their beautiful complexions."
Inside the tavern, Noble hands out strands of green beads to the guys and even greener garlands to the gals. "Every girl gets a lei," Noble says. "Usually, they're girls with the big . . . ," he adds, cupping his hands over make-believe breasts.
For most of the day, Noble will be behind a steamer on an outside deck, cooking 300 pounds of corned beef. "It's the busiest day of the year by far," says Noble. "When you walk down the street at six in the morning, you'll smell the corned beef a mile away."
Maggie Delaney giggles at the notion. A native of Shannon, Ireland, the 10th-grade teacher is a typical colleen, with curly red hair and an infectious chuckle. To honor St. Patrick, she eats a bowl of potato soup and downs a pint of Conway's Irish Ale at the Great Lakes Brewing Company (2516 Market Avenue; 216-771-4404). By 12:30, Delaney and her husband head to Tower City to get closer to the parade.
With the Irish Civic Association float in front, this year's procession follows the same route it's traveled since the early 1900s: west on Euclid Avenue from East 22nd Street, then north on East 6th Street to St. Clair Avenue. "Years ago, my mum and dad took us to Dublin for their St. Paddy's Day Festival," recalls Delaney. "But I'll tell you this: Cleveland really outdoes itself. More Irish than the Irish themselves."
Once the parade wraps up, the Delaneys, Brogan, and many other rowdy revelers will retreat to the Flat Iron Café (1114 Center Street in the Flats; 216-696-6968). The oldest Irish pub in Cleveland, the 95-year-old bar specializes in Irish stew and platters of corned beef, cabbage, and carrots. While the Guinness flows from the tap, Celtic troubadour Donal O'Shaughnessy belts out Irish ditties -- like the drinking man's favorite, "Beer Beer Beer," about a guy named Charley, who, the song says, invented beer.
"In the lyrics, every night at 11 o'clock everyone stops drinking for five seconds to pay their respects to him," says Delaney, hoisting her mug to the heavens. "Wherever you are, Charley, God bless ya!"