The Irish Center in Crisis

The Commodore John Barry Center, familiarly known as The Irish Center

The Commodore John Barry Center, familiarly known as The Irish Center

It’s the place where, since 1958, Philadelphia’s Irish community has gathered to talk, laugh, eat, drink, sing, dance, celebrate and mourn. Located in the Mt. Airy section of the city, and known officially as the Commodore Barry Club, the Irish Center–the heart of all things Irish for over 50 years–is now in imminent danger of having its doors shut forever.

The Irish Center has weathered its share of financial emergencies in the past.

But this financial crisis is different.

At the crux of the recent crisis is a recent change in tax rates by the city. The building at 6815 Emlen Street was just re-assessed at $1.2 million, which means an annual tax bill of $16,000. Added to that expense are annual regulatory and insurance fees of $7,000, monthly utilities of $4,000, and upkeep and maintenance costs–including $25,000 to purchase up-to-code appliances in the kitchen. “It’s been years of struggling with the routine maintenance costs, but these new costs go beyond the cushion we’ve relied on in the past,” Irish Center Board Member Sean McMenamin explained. “The city regulations require we upgrade the hood in the kitchen to stainless steel. We applied for a variance, and our kitchen certificate is good for two years. By then, we have to have the new hood in place.”

All of this means an immediate need to raise $50,000 in the next few months in order to keep the Irish Center doors open, and an ultimate goal of raising $100,000 as part of a two-year plan. Without this money, the Center will be gone by the end of the year, and the Irish community will have lost its home.

And a big home the Irish Center is. It’s home to an impressive and ever-expanding historic library; to an incredible array of Irish musicians and dancers; to Gaelic sports fans; to one of the city’s leading folk societies, the Philadelphia Ceili Group; to many county Societies; and to the Philadelphia Emerald Society Band. And that’s just to name just a few.

The Irish Center is both past and future to the Philadelphia Irish community, and this summer is all about celebrating the memories and guaranteeing it will continue and flourish well beyond 2014.

To do that, the Irish Center needs the help and donations of everyone who has ever celebrated their culture or embraced their heritage, so that generations to come can have the same opportunity.

Here’s how you can help save a beloved institution:

  • Donate money immediately via PayPal, you can visit the Irish Center web page at Click on the “Donate” button on the left side of the page. Donations can also be made by check, made out to “The Society of Commodore John Barry, Inc” and sent to 6815 Emlen Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19119.

  • Keep on the lookout for a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. It’s launching on July 15. Details to follow.

  • Toddle on over to Maloney’s Pub in Ardmore on Saturday, July 19, for a big fund-raiser.

  • Mark your calendars now for The Gathering, a celebratory day at The Irish Center on September 28, featuring many more ways to give.

While this fundraising is immediate and paramount to the current and continued survival of the Irish Center, plans are already under way for the direction that the Center will take beyond the two-year plan. The ultimate goal is to evolve the Irish Center into an Irish Arts and Cultural Center. This will allow the Center to become a non-profit organization, and thrive as a showcase for the history and heritage of the Irish in Philadelphia.

The Commodore Barry Center has always been about the people who gather there, but now this beautiful and historical building needs those people to save it so it can continue on for future generations to also call it home.

“The survival of the Irish Center is based on how we structure ourselves in the next two years. We need this money to keep the Irish Center afloat and the community together as we develop the Irish Center into an Irish Arts and Cultural Center,” Sean said. “When you hear the story of the struggle to keep this place open, you know how much people must love it.”



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