Irish Cultural Society Keeps Irish Heritage Alive
The countdown to Saint Patrick's Day is underway. In a few days, people will be putting on the green and celebrating. It doesn't matter if they are Irish or not. There is an organization in Erie that loves its Irish heritage. Members are proud to be Irish, not just on one day, but every day of the year.
The Irish Cultural Society was formed in Erie in 1980 by four people of Irish descent who wanted to preserve and promote Irish culture and Irish history. Saint Patrick's Day in Erie is special, but it is not a true reflection of Ireland.
"Before the Irish Cultural Society, St. Patrick's Day was mainly going out and drinking green beer. There's more to Irish culture than green beer,” says Pat Hersch, Board Member.
Those founding members included Father Matthew Daly, who was then pastor of Saint Patrick's Church. Also among the founders was Dr. Russell Vance, a history professor at what is now Pennwest Edinboro. Tony Barry is the current president. He came to Erie from Dublin and learned more about Ireland here than he did over there.
"I was actually educated by the Irish Cultural Society about Ireland. Especially Dr. Russ Vance,” says Tony.
Over the years, the society has taught young people Irish dancing and how to play Irish tunes on the fiddle. It's taught the Gaelic language. The society has even presented scholarships so the children and grandchildren of members could travel to Ireland for a few weeks. Donna Maycock is the scholarship director.
"They go over there. They study music, dance…history. They travel all over Ireland. I know my daughter went. She didn't want to come back. She loved it over there,” says Donna.
The Irish Cultural Society does some serious work, but members also love to have a little fun. The annual Saint Patrick's Day Hooley was held a couple of weeks ago. It was an early start to the Saint Patrick's Day celebration. The Irish Cultural Society is a wonderful group. But, there is some worry that young people may no longer care about their heritage.
"And I don't know why,” says Nita O’Toole, Corresponding Secretary. “It just doesn't seem to be something that is important maybe. I don't know why."
Peggy Vommaro is the historian of the Society. She keeps photographs and documents from all activities of the organization, past and present.
"And we hope to pass that on to the younger generation so it doesn't get lost, that we have that culture still going on,” she said.
The Irish Cultural Society currently has about 200 members but is hoping to attract new members, especially young people. To find out more about the society, log onto the organization's Facebook page.