Fundraising efforts are underway to save one of America’s oldest Irish social clubs. Founded in 1945, the Irish Social Club in Boston has been a prominent meeting place of the city’s extended Irish community for over six decades.
Members were shocked to hear in April that the club was to shut its doors due to excessive overhead costs and dwindling membership numbers.
“There wasn’t enough revenue coming in to carry the overheads,” the club’s attorney, Paul Kilgarriff, told the Irish Voice.
Since the club’s closure in April, members have established a grassroots movement called Save the Irish Social Club. The group is organizing a fundraising event for Saturday, September 24 in the clubs headquarters in West Roxbury.
In the past the Irish Social Club hosted a weekly Sunday night gathering where members would assemble to enjoy performances by top entertainers from both home and abroad. The club’s headquarters is a former bowling alley that boasts one of the best dance floors in the city.
“We had a live band every Sunday night and we would serve tea, coffee and Irish bread,” Kathleen Sullivan, who deals with publicity for Save the Irish Social Club, told the Irish Voice.
The club charges a modest $5 for annual membership and $10 for admittance to the Sunday night social.
In its heyday the club boasted in excess of 15,000 members, but before the April 17 closure these numbers had declined to around 300.
However, since its abrupt April closure, membership has more than doubled and now stands at close to 700, with one membership drive in June attracting more than 200 new members.
Kilgarriff said the decision to close was based on the financial costs and a lack of membership.
“Money was coming out of savings to pay bills,” he said.
The club required a number of maintenance repairs. The most substantial involved updating the fire-alarm sprinkler system to comply with code, at an estimated cost of $15,000.
Faced with declining members and rising overheads, the decision was made to close the doors of the club after the last Sunday night social on April 17.
Kilgarriff said that despite the building having an assessed value of over $1 million, banks were not going to loan to an organization that was not breaking even.
“After the band was paid for our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations we only had $100 left in what we had taken in at the door, so the Irish Social Club would have saved money if it was closed on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Kilgarriff.
Asked if they had considered fundraising prior to closure, he said the low attendance of St. Patrick’s Day meant they didn’t think there would be a high level of interest.
“If we can’t get people to come in on St. Patrick’s Day well when can we get them in,” he said.
Over the summer months Save the Irish Club has since raised $20,000, a response described by Kilgarriff as “totally unexpected.”
“We are very encouraged by it, and it is great that this has happened,” he added.
Speaking about the importance of the club, Kathleen Sullivan of Save the Irish Club said she rarely missed a Sunday night gathering.
“It is a way of meeting people and keeping friendships. If someone comes out from Ireland you always bring them along,” she said.
“If you wanted to meet somebody from home that is where you went,” she added.
Mary and Tom Maloney, two club officers, said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the sudden closure.
“We just took for granted that it was there every Sunday,” Mary said.
Members since 1980, Mary said the fundraising efforts have helped to raise the profile of the club.
“A lot of the new members have said they didn’t realize the Irish social club was even there, people who were living local had driven by and thought it was private,” she said.
Save the Irish Social Club has been meeting weekly to discuss progress on the ongoing fundraising efforts in preparation for the September event.
The Save the Irish Social Club fundraiser will take place on September 24 in club headquarters in West Roxbury. Kicking off at 2 p.m., admission is $10 and there will be live music all day.
The top prize in the raffle is a round trip to Ireland for two, accommodation and car rental included. For more information log onto www.savetheirishsocialclubofboston.org