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Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia


New Name for Irish Immigration Center

What’s in a name?

In the case of the newly rechristened Irish Diaspora Center, quite a lot.

Formerly the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia, the Diaspora Center has been broadening its mission for quite some time. The new name is just a recognition of all the ways in which the mission has evolved over that time.

“In doing our strategic planning with our board and setting the course for the next three years of the organization, we recognized that we serve a much broader base than just Irish immigrants,” says center Executive Director Emily Norton Ashinhurst. “So we wanted the name to represent the broader base of who we serve.”

The longtime Upper Darby-based organization originally began as the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center and then switched over to the Immigration Center, but for quite a while center activities have expanded. For example, the senior luncheon has served Irish immigrants for years, as has the free legal immigration clinic, but in the meantime the mission has expanded to include, for example, a youth program known as Foróige and a genealogy program which serves the broader community.

“None of the services that we provide are changing,” says Ashinhurst. “This really was to more adequately reflect our mission and the work that we do.” Continue Reading


A Look at the Past and the Future at the Immigration Center

(Photo by Tom Reing)

Young people and those who’ve been around a lot longer have a lot to learn from each other, and a good deal to share with the rest of the world.

That’s the general idea behind “How I Got Here – Where I’m Going,” a series of monologues to be presented Monday night at 7:30 at the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia, 7 South Cedar Lane in Upper Darby.

The monologues will be presented by three actors from Philadelphia’s acclaimed Inis Nua Theatre Company, and the material is drawn from both the senior and youth programs at the Immigration Center.

Tom Reing, the theatre company’s founder, is directing the presentation.

“It’s an intergenerational piece where we have some immigrants who became Americans, and some first-generation people,” says Reing. “Then we have some young people who have connections to Ireland as well and are part of the youth group—they’re the next chapter of the story.” Continue Reading


Could You Be the Biggest Loser?

One too many snickerdoodles this holiday season? Or has the weight just been coming on for a while?

Here’s an opportunity to shed those unwanted pounds and help out the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia at the same time.

It’s the center’s Biggest Loser challenge, set to begin Monday, January 14, from 6 to 7 p.m.

Anyone can join the challenge. All you need to do is set your mind to it—we admit, that part can be tough—and visit the center for a weekly private weigh-in. The three “losers” with the largest percent weight loss after eight weeks will win cash prizes. Entry fee is $50, which supports the Immigration Center. Continue Reading

Arts, News

Magnificent Desolation: Tour the Divine Lorraine

The Divine Lorraine

The Divine Lorraine

It’s an imposing 10-story frosted layer cake of a building on North Broad Street, designed by Willis G. Hale and built around 1892, when North Philly was home to the stylish high and mighty. Anyone who’s driven past the once flamboyant Divine Lorraine Hotel knows that it long ago fell on hard times, with a crumbling interior, its sooty brick walls a high-visibility canvas for local graffiti artists.

None of which stopped Siobhan Lyons, executive director of the Irish Immigration Center, from wanting to see it. That’s just what she did earlier this year, and she wants you to have the same opportunity.

“I took the tour with Next City (a Philadelphia urban improvement nonprofit),” Lyons says. “That was the first time I realized groups were able to get in there. I’ve wanted to go inside the Divine Lorraine since I arrived in Philadelphia seven years ago. Who doesn’t want to see the Divine Lorraine? It’s one of my favorite buildings in the city. I first came across Willis Hale’s work when I worked at the World Affairs Council. One of his buildings is at Juniper and Chestnut—it’s a fantastic building, very ornate. When I saw the Divine Lorraine, I realized it was another building by the same architect. He did very fancy architecture that fell out of favor almost as soon as the Divine Lorraine was completed. He died a pauper. I really like his story.”

The Divine Lorraine’s story is pretty interesting, too. Initially conceived as a luxury apartment building, it became a hotel in 1900—the Lorraine Hotel. African American spiritual leader Father Major Jealous Divine—who claimed to be the almighty himself—purchased the building in 1948 for for $485,000. It became the first fully racially integrated hotel in the nation. Among his many dictates and pronouncements, Father Divine preached the virtues of celibacy—even among married couples. Perhaps not surprisingly, that “no sex” commandment had a limited appeal. Membership in congregation dwindled. The hotel closed in 1999, and Father Divine’s International Peace Mission sold it the year after.

The hotel lapsed into decrepitude, but now there’s new hope for a revival. And not just for storied hotel, but for the North Philly neighborhood. Visionary developer Eric Blumenfeld purchased the property at sheriff’s sale in 2012. He plans to rehab the building to include rental units, with restaurants on the first floor.

For now, work hasn’t begun—which means this relic of a grander time is open for tours appealing to the curious.

That’s exactly who Lyons hopes to attract, as the Immigration Center conducts an exclusive tour—20 people only—Monday, October 14, 2013 from 3 to 5:30 p.m. “I just thought, this is a great opportunity, and it could raise some money for the Irish Immigration Center. It all worked. When I first did the tour myself, a lot of my friends said they would like to do it if they ever had the chance.”

So, once inside, what’s on the itinerary? Well, you’ll have to watch your step-and you’ll be be expertly guided, so no worries—but the payoff, Lyons says, is the magnificent view. “You get to walk all the way up to the top of the building and look out over the city. That’s just beautiful. And down in in the basement they show you a store that used to be a speakeasy during prohibition. I don’t know anyone in Philadelphia who has walked by it and didn’t want to look inside it. So now you get to see.”

Want to satisfy your curiosity? Sign up here. Another tour is planned for the spring—but for now, better hurry. Tickets are going fast.


Help Find Gareth Haughey

Gareth Haughey

Gareth Haughey

The Irish Immigration Center is asking for your help in locating a local man, Gareth Haughey, who went missing on September 27.

At the time of his disappearance, Haughey was living at the Summit Motel on Township Line Road in Upper Darby. His nickname is “Gaffer,” and he has worked in construction. His family is from Armagh.

“We were approached on Monday by friends Gareth works with regularly,” says Siobhan Lyons, executive director of the Irish Immigration Center in Delaware County. “They hadn’t seen him in quite a while, and weren’t sure how to go about trying to locate him. So, considering the circumstances, they reached out for help and advice.”

Lyons contacted the Irish Consulate on Tuesday for assistance notifying Haughey’s family. The Center issued a request for help in locating him a couple of days later, Lyons says, to give the Consulate a chance to inform the family “before we started broadcasting it to the broader community.”

At the moment, the Upper Darby police are waiting for notification from a family member before they can file a missing person’s report. “We need someone in the family to give us some information about where he was last seen, and information about his mental and physical status,” says Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood. Any family member who can provide that information is advised to call Capt. George Rhodes at (610) 734-7677.

If you know where Haughey might be, or if you have seen him recently, please contact the Irish Immigration Center at 610-789-6355.

“Thus far, we have called the hospitals, morgues, homeless shelters, but no joy,” Lyons says. “His family in Ireland and friends here in Philadelphia are anxious to make sure he is okay.”

News, People

Philadelphia’s Fond Farewell to Alan Farrelly

The Irish Center's Tom Farrelly (no relation) presents a token of recognition to outgoing New York Irish Vice Consul Alan Farrelly.

The Irish Center's Tom Farrelly (no relation) presents a token of recognition to outgoing New York Irish Vice Consul Alan Farrelly.

Irish Vice Consul Alan Farrelly has spent a good deal of time in Philadelphia, strengthening ties with the Quaker City Irish community.

He’s leaving the post after four years and returning to Ireland in August, but Philadelphia’s Irish made sure his hard work here was recognized.

There were a few speeches, some parting gifts and a bit of music and dance to mark the occasion. But mostly, representatives of the Philadelphia Irish Center and the organizations that make their home there lined up to shake his hand, say a few words of thanks and to have their pictures taken with Farrelly in the center’s cozy little Fireside Room. (Earlier, they had him out on the roof, looking out upon the badly needed repairs. An unfailingly polite young man in a dark suit on a hot day, standing out above the trees of Mount Airy, still doing the government’s business.)

President of the Irish Center Vince Gallagher and board member Tom Farrelly (no relation) led the brief, mostly informal ceremonies, which also honored first secretary Lorraine Christian, who also is returning to Ireland.

“They were never strangers here,” said the Philadelphia Farrelly. “We adopted them, and they adopted us.”

As the Irish Farrelly accepted a commemorative pen-and-clock set from his local admirers, he acknowledged that the admiration is mutual, and he added, “we’re proud to have been a part of the work you do here.”

Farrelly’s involvement—indeed, the involvement of the entire Irish Consulate staff in New York—has been deeply appreciated in the Philadelphia area, said Siobhán Lyons, executive director of the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia.

“Alan has just been great,” said Lyons. “The Consul General can’t be every where, so one of Alan’s jobs has been to travel to different places. A lot of that started with (former New York Consul General) Niall Burgess’s recognition that the East Coast of the United States is not just New York City.

“Alan’s been extremely helpful with the Irish Immigration Center. He was there when I was taking it over, and helping to figure out the future strategy of the center. He’s met everybody. It’s going to be a shame to lose him because he knows so many people and he likes Philadelphia. Those will be very big shoes to fill.”

We captured some photographs of Farrelly’s farewell fete at the Irish Center. Check them out.


“Little Christmas” Lunch at the Irish Center

Jane and Barney

Jane and Barney

January 6, The Feast of the Epiphany, is a miraculous holiday in Irish circles. Also known as “Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas, the best part of the miracle is that tradition commands the male of the species to take over the housework for the day. And the women get to kick back and relax.

So with great epiphanous thought, The Irish Center’s Sean McMenamin invited The Immigration Center’s lovely-ladies-who-lunch to observe their weekly tradition chez Commodore Barry Club for their Little Women’s Christmas.

With a fire roaring, Vince Gallagher’s band playing and food aplenty, over 40 people packed the house for the afternoon. Guests new and returning enjoyed themselves while not lifting a finger in servitude.

“I used to come out to The Irish Center all the time, but I haven’t been here in about 10 years,” Maureen Baker disclosed. “And when I got the email from The Immigration Center, I thought it would be a great event to come to.”

The Immigration Center’s Director, Siobhan Lyons, is planning more of these affairs: “We’re going to be partnering up with The Irish Center to run events up here monthly. Anyone who would like to be added to our mailing list, please visit our Web site at”

Sean McMenamin had a nostalgic surprise on hand at the luncheon as well: old photos and ephemera from the early days of The Irish Center. Pictures of the 1965 Miss Mayo contestants and a 1941 All Ireland Ball program were just a few of the items on display. With the newly renovated library set for a grand opening on St. Patrick’s Day, there are plenty more materials like those waiting to be viewed. And if anyone has any old photos to share, particularly from the period 1946-1966, please contact Sean.

All in all, a pleasing official end to the Christmas season. Check out our photos…and as a special bonus, we have a video of harpist Grainne Hambly playing two tunes she dedicated to Nollaig na mBan during Teada’s recent concert.


Immigration Center Gala Honors Immigration Activist

Anne O'Callaghan

Anne O'Callaghan, right, with her award. To her left is Liam Hegarty, president of the Irish Immigration Center board, and Wendell Young III (center), retired union leader and Welcoming Center volunteer.

Nearly 200 people filled a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on Penns Landing on Saturday, October 30, to see Anne O’Callaghan, founder of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, receive the first ever Mathew Carey Hibernian Award in recognition of her years of service to the region’s immigrant communities.

The award was presented by Melissa Hancock of the Mathew Carey Association, whose late husband was a descendant of Carey, an Irish immigrant from Dublin, an American patriot, and publisher. A protégé of Benjamin Franklin, Carey also founded the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Immigrants from Ireland.

The award was the first ever to be given by the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia—and at its very first fundraising gala. Wendell Young III, longtime union leader and a Welcoming Center volunteer, brought the house down with his introductory speech in which said, “Nobody says no to this lady. When she sets out to get a program done it gets done. Her husband Sean said no to her once and look what happened to him.” He pointed to O’Callaghan’s husband, who was sporting a bandage around his eye. The crowd roared with laughter.

Accepting her award, O’Callaghan said it was “absolutely beautiful and quite, I believe, undeserved.” She thanked members of her staff and her clients, then made reference to Young’s introduction. “You can always count on Wendell to stir things up.”

O’Callaghan, a physical therapist who emigrated from Ireland in 1970, founded the Welcoming Center, which is a centralized employment and resource center for immigrants, in 2003. Since then it has served more than 7,000 immigrants from all over the world. She also founded a software company that serves the home health care industry. She is active in the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and sits on the advisory board of the Southwest Community Enrichment Center.