“Denise, You Are Relentless.”

Those were words spoken to Denise Foley—in a good way!—back in 2015 in the middle of her dedicated campaign on the Irish Philadelphia Facebook page to raise money for the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center in Mount Airy. The Irish Center was looking at thousands of dollars in repairs and back taxes, and as part of the group that had come together to make sure the doors of the center didn’t close, Denise was going to make sure they succeeded.

And succeed they did, raising over $83,000. For Denise, the triumph was as much in how they did it as in the fact that they did it. “This was another case where it was just a great group of people. Everybody did everything they could, everybody was 100 percent behind raising this money. And this was hundreds of people giving $10, $20 … all these people working together for something.”

For Denise, seeing the Irish community come together has been at the heart of how she has spent a great deal of her time over the past 15 years. In the early 2000s, she and her Irish Philadelphia co-founder Jeff Meade decided that their shared love of Irish culture would make a great book, “How To Be Irish in Philadelphia.” The two, whose lives and careers have dovetailed seamlessly since the mid-1970s when they worked together at the suburban newspaper “Today’s Spirit,” still haven’t gotten around to writing that book, but the online newspaper they published every week for 10 years has created an ongoing legacy in the Philadelphia Irish community.

“Jeff and I started talking about this idea we both had, and the different angles we were coming from. He got into the Irish stuff through music, and for me it was genealogy that really piqued my interest. I’ve always been interested in family history and my Irish heritage, even when I was young. I was a question asker, and in some cases, wisely, I even wrote down the answers.

“Someone once told me, ‘Reporters are born bored.’ And I thought to myself how true that is. Because I love anything new. I love diversity. I love things that are strange to me. I love odd places and odd people, anything that is different; it just makes me happy. I wanted to be two things when I was a kid: I wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew and I wanted to be a writer. And being a reporter was like being a detective who wrote. I was introverted, but I loved to write and the only way I could think of to make a living writing was to go work for a newspaper, and then maybe a magazine later. Maybe one day I’d write a book.

“The Irish Philadelphia website was originally going to be how we started gathering information for our book. But the website kind of took off on its own and it became an easier way to get the information out. We were interested in exploring the Irish community and all the different aspects of it. If we heard about something Irish going on, we’d just go to it and take lots of pictures and write stories. We could do anything we wanted because it belonged to us.

“I think the first event we covered was the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We went and took lots of pictures, hundreds of pictures. By the time we were at the height of it we had three photographers covering the parade because we found that people couldn’t get enough. We tried to get every organization, every float.

“We realized from the website that what people were most interested in was the calendar. That was a really popular thing. People wanted to know what was going on, what can we do that’s Irish this weekend. I said, ‘Let’s do a weekly thing that’s a round-up of what’s on the calendar.’ We already had the title: How To Be Irish in Philadelphia This Week. We tried to get to as many events as we could. We started going to everything. We went to the GAA games; nobody was taking pictures of the games, and we were like, ‘Oooh, this is fun.’ I just really enjoyed it. I got to meet a lot of people there. Things got split up in different ways. We would take turns at the games, but I usually went to the Irish American Business Chamber. And then I met all these other people there. The funny thing was that these people didn’t know each other. There were people at the Chamber, and people at the games, and they were all doing ‘Irishy’ things but they had never met. We realized there were so many little rooms in the Irish Community.”

“We’d go to Society meetings, and to the parade events, and once we started meeting people and getting to know them, they’d tell us about other things they were doing. We went to a lot of music events, took a lot of photos and videos. We did it because we love the music, we love the events. And I love the people I’ve met. That has been the most amazing part of this whole thing. I’ve met the most amazing people in all of those little rooms in the Irish community. A lot of them are now my friends. I always say to people, ‘You’ve got to come out to this because you’re going to meet the nicest people.’”

So on November 18, when Denise Foley is honored at the 2018 Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame ceremony, she knows exactly who to thank: “I would like to thank my ancestors, because without them I would not be of Irish descent. I wouldn’t be here.”

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