Maybe it is a generational thing and a sign that the Irish are losing their influence and ability to hold together as emigration from the “Old Country” diminishes census by census, with a drop of over 100,000 Irish-born people over a ten year span in the latest U.S. statistics.
Those born on the other side are largely responsible for obtaining or building Irish centers around the country and maintaining them primarily on a volunteer basis opening their doors to like-minded organizations fostering their heritage hopefully onto another generation.
There is no question that they are challenged with keeping them up to date and also channeling younger people into the organizations housed under the respective roofs. And perhaps nowhere is that challenge greater than in Philadelphia, where its beloved Irish center formally known as the Commodore Barry Club, or the Irish Center, is in a struggle for its very survival.
Founded in 1958 in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia not far from the cobblestone streets of Germantown, the Commodore Barry Club (theirishcenter.com) sits at the corner of Emlen Street and Carpenter Lane in a residential neighborhood of older porch-lined homes that have seen some good and bad days over the decades.
Serving more as an umbrella home to the myriad Irish societies (Mayo, Galway and Donegal for instance) and organizations like the Philadelphia Ceili Group which has hosted many events at the center over the years and in recent years, its entire September Irish Music Festival series there, it doesn’t have the benefit of non-profit status that is customary with so many other Irish centers.
It does have a board of directors and management to look after the place and deal with the arrangements for hire and use with member organizations or outside clients, but recent developments have given its Philadelphia fans reason to worry about its future.
Throughout the city of Philadelphia property has been undergoing reassessment, and the Commodore Barry Club was hit with a huge assessment and requirements that would force expensive upgrades that would likely be the death knell of the club.
Appeals to the reassessment knocked back an 800 percent increase to a more palatable 300 percent rate of taxation on the aging and cash-strapped facility which would also necessitate kitchen upgrades to current codes if they were to continue to cater food at its events, which was a valuable asset to the organizations or hires using the banquet hall and a number of smaller function or meeting rooms.
To meet these new rates and requirements in the short term, the Irish Center was in need of an infusion of $50,000 cash to be raised over the next few months if they were to remain operational for the Irish community for the coming year.
In the long term, they may need to seriously consider organizing the Commodore Barry Club in a different manner that would allow it to function as a non-profit cultural and educational center which would allow it to seek sponsorships that are closed off under the current setup.
A campaign to help raise funds rapidly formed with details surfacing in social media through IrishPhiladelphia.com and WTMR radio, where Irish program hosts Vince Gallagher (an active board member at the Irish Center) and Marianne MacDonald were beating the drums to galvanize the Delaware Valley area of Greater Philadelphia, Wilmington and South Jersey into action.
There may still be an envelope-stuffing appeal given the age of some of the center’s loyal volunteers, but crowd sourcing is now the way people go to raise significant cash for their goals, and there is one underway for this campaign.
Donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/save-the-irish-center. At deadline some $7,000 towards the goal of $50,000 has been pledged to help in their time of need. You can also make a straight donation via PayPal through a link on the center’s website. They can also be sent by mail to the Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19119 (215-843-8051).
In the tradition of rallying the forces for a symbolic fundraiser in a local pub, Delaware Valley folks are aiming for Maloney’s Pub in Ardmore, Pennsylvania (2626 East County Line Road) this Saturday, July 19 from 6-9 p.m. where there will be food and drink ($30 donation suggested) with Irish music, dance and raffles to help meet fundraising goals.
People are invited to share their memories and photos of the 56 year history of the Irish Center in Philly. And in the final analysis, an Irish center is only as good as the people who value it because it will surely be missed if people don’t step up to the collection plate.