Irish Heritage Day:
How it all began
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
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.