Erin Go Bragh! Or, if you don’t speak Gaelic: Ireland Forever!
That’s the philosophy of the eight-year-old Irish Heritage Center in Columbia Tusculum.
Housed within the 44,000-square-foot former McKinley School building on Eastern Avenue, the center was founded by Kent Covey and Maureen A. Kennedy, whose families hailed from County Clare and County Mayo in Ireland. The couple purchased the building in 2009. With the help of many volunteers, they transformed the vacant property from empty schoolhouse to a home for all things Irish.
Run by volunteers, it hosts numerous theater performances, teas, concerts, pub music nights and private celebrations.
The center regularly books such world-famous musical groups as Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones.
The Irish American Theater Company has staged award-winning productions and in 2015 hosted the Acting Irish International Theater Festival, a weeklong festival of theater from the U.S., Canada and Ireland on the Irish Center’s stage.
The center houses an Irish Thatched Roof Cottage Pub (formerly a fifth-grade room) filled with Irish and local libations, an Irish Kitchen serving Guinness stew and a Tea Room featuring Irish teas, scones and goodies. A Children’s Room is full of fairy and pirate magic, crafts and games. Exhibit halls feature art and items from the National Library of Ireland.
“The center acts as a focal point for those who share an interest in promoting Irish Arts, heritage and culture,” said Michael D. Higgins, president of Ireland. “(It) may be one of the youngest such centers in the U.S., but is surely also one of the most ambitious and I salute that ambition and vision.”
The Irish government has donated funds to the center, as has Culture Ireland, an agency whose mission is to showcase Irish culture beyond its island home. Other donors include the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Foundation, the Western & Southern Financial Fund and the Castellini Foundation, along with many individuals.
Kiss me, I’m Irish!
March holds great promise for the Irish, as well as the wannabes. On the calendar at the Irish Heritage Center:
Friday, March 17 – A full-fledged St. Patrick’s Day celebration will begin with a 2 p.m. Mass, celebrated by a Dublin-born priest, the Rev. Benedict O’Cinnsealaigh. Entertainment, dancing, music, song, stories and children’s activities will follow, along with Irish food and drink.
Wednesday, March 22, 6:30 p.m. – The center will host the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburg Alumni Lecture Series. Titled “The Fighting Irish – 19th Century Irish Life in the Midwest,” the lecture is part of a series presented annually to ND alumni chapters throughout the country. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.
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