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Irish Cultural Society

of

San Antonio Texas, Inc

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The Beginning
of
Irish Heritage Day

Irish Heritage Day:
How it all began

by Maura Barry-Ciarrocchi

One of my writing assignments in 1998 was to attend a Philippine Festival at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). The entertainment was presented by Philippine residents in San Antonio. Their event drew a packed audience. The following day I asked myself: "Why can't we do that?!" "We" meant The Irish Cultural Society of San Antonio, Inc. (ICS) Our organization could offer two groups of Irish dancers. We could find a live Irish music group, a storyteller, someone who sold Celtic jewelry and someone who played the Irish harp. We could find a speaker in the area with an Irish topic to present. We could provide Irish scones and the usual "trimmings." Bob Slattery, ICS treasurer, didn't take long to realize it just might be possible. Two Dubliners, Moya Murtagh and I, had "clicked instantly". She became part of the venture. The museum agreed to give Irish HeritageDay (IHD) an "airing" in 1999. Our first guest speaker was nationally acclaimed sculptor Jerry McKenna. Our first storyteller was member Jane McDaniel. We had an Irish harp player, Nancy McHugh who was not familiar with Irish harp melodies, but was an excellent musician. Members Jim and Maggie Fox provided the live music that first year. We had Celtic coloring pages for kids and also an Irish "tattoo." Two of the Brigidine Sisters helped older children and adults make St. Brigid's Cross. (For our first two years, on the morning of the event, I went down to a pond near our home and cut fresh stems of the reeds needed for the project - often escaping a tumble into the water! Later we got wise and purchased the reeds from a florist! For the next ten years, through Southwest Airlines, we were able to offer two airline tickets as our main raffle prize. Member Tom Hyland faithfully obtained gift tokens from local restaurants as extra prizes, and member Willie Fahy presented authentic Irish door prizes through the years. Beginning that first year we had real scones, butter and jam as samples of Irish food. That first year, Tom Hyland and member Henry McCann, as "water boys," had quite a time hauling the water from a distant source for replenishing the coffee maker! A couple of days prior to that first IHD, the ICS board members had received invitations to a pre-St. Patrick's Day lunch hosted by the Irish Consul at the downtown Marriot Hotel. At the last minute the Consul accepted our invitation to speak at IHD! Moya, Bob and I had to make a "dash" from the hotel to the museum for the scheduled opening of the first IHD! We could hardly believe it when we found the main atrium packed with people, every chair occupied in front of the stage. People lined the stairway for a view of the dancers! With that, we knew that Irish Heritage Day was going to be a success. We learned from our mistakes over the years and seldom made the same mistakes again. We were also "nomads," always on the move regarding a suitable location. As they say, "If you build it they will come." We kept building IHD - and they came. On this our 7th year, we feel IHD has finally "made it." We've had some ideal locations, including The Institute of Texan Cultures, where our guest speaker from Ireland, was Jean Kelly, winner of the first Harry McKillop Irish Spirit Award, founded by Texan Ross Perot. He named the award for a hero who is also a Texan, and of Irish heritage. It's a great Ireland-Texas link. We have ICS member Gene Logan and Irish-born Netta Blanchard (Dallas) of the American Ireland Funds to thank for this connection. (A little history of IHD originally written in its' 7th year, 2005. Some minor corrections made in 2012, our 13th year.) The event was free and open to the public. It still is.