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Philadelphia Irish Center


Break Out the Crayons and Paint Brushes, Kids! It’s an Irish Art Contest

St. Patrick’s month will be a relatively subdued affair at The Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center (the Irish Center) in Mount Airy, which is usually jammed with people, young and old, making merry after the Philly parade and again on St. Patrick‘s Day itself. Not this year.

So what to do, what to do …

After giving it a bit of thought, the folks at the Irish Center came up with an idea: an art contest for wee ones up to high school age. The contest also has the advantage of continuing an initiative started before the pandemic, making the Irish Center a more attractive destination for the center’s next generation.

The subject of the art contest: “What Does Being Irish Mean to You?”

With the exception of very small gatherings and The Commodore, the center’s restaurant, the place is closed for business. “But when we were open, we were trying to come up with some ideas that would attract the younger generation, says Lisa Maloney, Irish Center board member and vice president. “We did that with a middle school dance. And we’ve actually had a number of high schoolers helping during this COVID period with the renovation of the library, helping us move books and things like that, because we’ve been wanting to engage them and have conversations with them, meaning the younger generation.”

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Food & Drink

Dinner Is Served … at the Irish Center

Little neck clams. Irish stew. Guinness braised brisket and cabbage. Roasted half chicken. Pan pizza. Vegan meatloaf. Homemade brownies with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Save your whetted appetite for a new restaurant, opening in the cozy Fireside Room at the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center (the Irish Center). It’s called The Commodore, and it’s opening for a soft launch October 29 and November 1.

All of those delicious dishes and more are on the menu. And, of course, you are cordially invited.

This is a “soft” opening, meant to refine the concept, with plans to open on a regular basis afterward.

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Put on Your Dancing Shoes, Kids! Come to the Irish Center’s Middle School Social

The ballroom at the Philadelphia Irish Center is often home to social events of one kind or another, including concerts and pageants, or banquets and balls hosted by the city’s many county organizations.

It’s a popular place—but often, mostly among adults.

On Saturday, March 2, the ballroom will play host to a younger crowd. Much younger.

That evening, the Irish Center (also known as the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center), will host its first-ever Middle School Social for 6th, 7thand 8thgraders. The Center is located in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood.

It’s all part of an effort to make the Center a more welcoming place for the next generation and their families. That, in turn, is an outgrowth of a survey the Center conducted fairly recently when it became incorporated as a nonprofit.

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Nathan Carter: A Sneak Preview!

Here’s a good reason to keep your night before Thanksgiving open.

On Wednesday, November 21, Irish Country mega-star Nathan Carter will be on stage at the Commodore Barry Arts & Cultural Center (The Irish Center). Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.

Tickets are currently available online here or by contacting the Irish Center at (215) 843-8051.

The Irish Center is at 6815 Emlen St., Philadelphia, PA, 19119, in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia.


Ireland’s New Minister for the Diaspora Visits Philadelphia

Irish Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, talking to people at the Irish Center on Wednesday. Behind him: Immigration Center executive direct Siobhan Lyons.

Irish Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, talking to people at the Irish Center on Wednesday. Behind him: Immigration Center executive direct Siobhan Lyons.

The latest donor to Philadelphia’s Irish Center fundraising campaign is the Irish government.

Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan, an ex-Kerry footballer whose brand new cabinet post gives him responsibility over the some 70 million people of Irish descent living in every corner of the world, announced this week that the government was allocating $2.3 million to 37 Irish immigration centers across the US for their work in supporting vulnerable populations, including the elderly and the undocumented. That includes Philadelphia’s Irish Immigration Center, located in Upper Darby.

“But I was glad to see that there was a small grant in there of $12,000 for the Irish Center,” said the 62-year-old Fine Gael politician, who is a multiple All-Ireland Gaelic football winner, at a reception—like most Irish gatherings, with fresh baked scone and brown bread—in the center’s Fireside Room on Wednesday morning.

Later in the day, Deenihan met at Stotesbury Mansion near Rittenhouse Square in the city with leaders and members of many of the region’s Irish organizations, including the Irish American Business Chamber and Network, Irish Network-Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association, which presented Deenihan with a Philly GAA jersey. He was accompanied by New York-based Irish Consul General Barbara Jones and Vice Consul Anna McGillicuddy.

Deenihan is doing a lap around the globe (he started in the United Arab Emirates, where some 10,000 Irish-born live) in advance of announcing a new “diaspora strategy,” a way to maintain a connection with those who trace all or part of their lineage back to the Emerald Isle. He said he expects to have an action plan in place by January.

If his remarks were any indication, at the top of the list will be immigration reform in the US, particularly as it relates to the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living and working in the US. Deenihan met with several local undocumented Irish immigrants in an upstairs room at Stotesbury on Wednesday afternoon, before visiting the Irish Memorial on Front Street.

“Now that the mid-term elections are over, I hope President Obama will look at the authority he has to bring about a fundamental change in immigration rules affecting the Irish,” said Deenihan, while speaking to the estimated 80 people at the Stotesbury event.

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which raised quotas for immigrants from countries such as Latin America and Asia who had been previously disadvantaged, followed the law of unintended consequences. The mission of Boston’s favorite Irish son, Senator Ted Kennedy, the new immigration policy reduced the number of legal immigrants from Ireland. Prior to 1965, about 70,000 were coming to the US; in the decade after, only about 10,000 were permitted to come.

Many countries rely on their diaspora for support—for money, for tourism, and in the case of Israel, said Deenihan, “their survival.” Ireland isn’t the first country to establish a minister for the diaspora, but he said, no other country has the strong connection Ireland has with the US.

“Nearly every family in Ireland has relatives here in America,” he said in his address at The Irish Center. “I have lots of relatives around here. I should have, I suppose, told them I was coming,” he added, to laughter.

“Our connection to you is so strong that though we’re part of Europe,” he said, “we look to support from here in the US.”

Later, I asked him privately about what specifically that connection meant to Ireland. “The diaspora has been very good to Ireland. The recent business investment in Ireland came because of our connection here,” Deenihan said. “But I’m not just looking at what the diaspora can do for us. I’m looking to give back to the diaspora.”

For one thing, he said, he wants to make it easier for Irish Americans to trace their roots. Fewer Americans than ever now identify as Irish, which can erode the link between the two countries and is something, he believes, that a little bit of family history searching could help mitigate. In recent years, the National Archives of Ireland has made both the 1901 and 1911 Census records for all 32 counties available online for free. “I’d like to make more records available,” he said.

As minister for culture, he presided over the development of the website,, which gathers many of Ireland’s cultural assets under one virtual, searchable roof. For example, you can search by institution and see the portrait of famed playwright Lady Augusta Gregory that hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland or view a page from the transportation register of Cavan gaol (jail) that’s kept in the National Archives.

“I want to build on that site to make this kind of information readily and easily accessed,” he said. “If you give to people, they always give back.”


An Interactive Timeline of the Philadelphia Irish Center

Mayo Ball

Mayo Ball

A lot of people see the words “Irish Center,” and assume the Irish have always been there.

Nope. It started out not long after the beginning of the 20th century as a club for automobile hobbyists—with a full-time mechanic, no less. It was also the first home of the Germantown Jewish Centre. Dancers, singers, pipers, county organizations, and more have called it their home for more than 50 years. It has played host to ambassadors and rebel-rousers. It has seen big parties in the ballroom, and quiet little gatherings (sometimes not so quiet) at the bar.

As we continue to raise the money to keep the doors to this landmark open for another 50 years, we thought you might like to see what it is we’re trying to save—and what we hope you will try to save. Maybe it will inspire you.

The timeline is interactive. Mouse over the little dots top see the milestones, some great and small, pop up.

We probably don’t have all of the dates right—you can feel free to correct us–and we invite you to share your own historical photos. Post them to our Facebook page, and tell us what we’re looking at. Remember to include the dates.


Irish Center Campaign Tops $20,000

Because they're happy: Susan Conboy plants a big one on Seamus Sweeney's cheek at the fundraiser.

Because they’re happy: Susan Conboy plants a big one on Seamus Sweeney’s cheek at the fundraiser.

The fundraising campaign to save the Philadelphia Irish Center topped $20,000 this week, following an intense web-based effort and a fundraising “house party” at Maloney’s Pub of Ardmore on Saturday night at which the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums made a $1,000 pledge.

Check out our photos from the Maloney’s event.

The Irish Center is seeking to raise $50,000 this year in order to pay its property taxes, which went up by 300 percent his year because of a citywide reassessment, and to replace a $25,000 range hood in the kitchen, which is the fundamental to the center’s livelihood as an event space.

The Maloney’s fundraiser, which was underwritten by a $600 check from the Mayo Association, is the first of several planned throughout the next two months. Up next: A concert/cabaret on August 17 at the Irish Center with Cahal Dunne, a singer, songwriter, storyteller, and comedian known as “Ireland happy man.” He won Ireland’s national songwriting contest with a tune called “Happy Man.” Tickets are $20 and includes the show, light refreshments, and door prizes. They’re available by calling the Irish Center at (215)843-8051.

On September 19, teams will compete for prizes in Quizzo , the pub version of Trivial Pursuit, at the Irish Center. Teams—there are at least 20 forming now—contribute $60 to play. Prizes and raffles are being sought now; the first donation came from Pat Durnin of McKenna’s Irish Shop, who is giving $25 gift certificates. To sign up or donate , visit the page on Facebook  or email Marianne MacDonald at

And save the date: September 6, for a comedy night at The Irish Center. More on that to come.

Also on tap: NBC10 visited the Irish Center last week to do a story on its financial woes. We’ll keep you posted about when that will run either on the site or our Facebook page.

To donate, go to the Irish Center’s website  or the fundraising site. We also have a banner ad on our pages that you can click through to donate.


Big Boost for Irish Center Fund Drive!


Were you ever afraid to talk about something really great happening because you were afraid you’d jinx it?

My partner Denise doesn’t let things like that worry her purty little head.

If you were perusing our Facebook page Monday at exactly 4:59 p.m., you would have seen Denise’s dispatch from Irish Philadelphia Pledge Central on behalf of the online fund drive to raise $50,000 to save the Philadelphia Irish Center:

Thanks to everyone who donated today! I’m going out for a bit, but when I’m back, I’m hoping to see that the second shift is up and keeping those dollahs flowing tonight. Let’s see if we can get to $9,000 by the weekend. Oh heck, let’s make it an even $10,000!

By early Tuesday morning, we’d cracked $9,000.

By Tuesday afternoon: more than $9,600.

And by 8:59 p.m.: $10,215!

That was a huge day, in what has proved to be a really big week. As we head into the weekend, we’re closing in on $11,000. There’s still a long way to go until we hit $50,000, but a week like this shows you what’s possible. We’re thankful for all the generous donations, but we’re just as thankful for the many warm thoughts and memories that went along with them, such as this one from The Durkan Family:

We would like to make a donation in memory of our husband/father, John Durkan. John emigrated from Swinford, County Mayo in the late 50’s to Philadelphia and was a strong advocate for The Irish Center. His love of Irish music and the people of Ireland was evident in everything he taught us. Our family has years of memories of events at the Center and anyone who knew him is aware that if he were here with us still he would be one of the people leading this campaign.

And this from Patti Wyatt:

We have just recently discovered all this gem of the Irish Community has to offer and have only begun to take an active part in the community. We have to save the Center for all the future generations and slow-comers like us!!

Along with this from Kathy McGee Burns:

My whole life changed, twenty five years ago when I first walked into the Irish Center. That day I was introduced to my Irish heritage. I knew that was where I belonged. Please help us save this treasure.

And that’s what the Irish Center is—a true treasure, albeit one that has fallen into financial difficulty. The Irish Center has never needed your help more than it does now. You can help save the Irish Center by visiting our online fundraising site, and giving as generously as you can.

One other really fun way to help? Head on over to Maloney’s Pub, 2626 East County Line Road, in Ardmore tomorrow night, starting at 6, for what promises to be a rollicking house party. Live music and dance, some incredible raffle items, and more, right on until 9. Tickets at the door: $25. See you there.