On Memorial Day weekend, East Durham in the Catskill Mountains of New York is teeming with Irish and Irish Americans celebrating their Irish heritage at the town’s annual Irish Festival.

But the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural & Sports Centre and its supporters aim to sustain this vibrant, family-friendly, Irish roots celebration in East Durham all year round with their Irish Village project.

The project mission, which was announced in March 2001, is “to build an Irish village that recreates exactly how a 19th century Irish Village looked, and teach visitors what happened in the lives of the people that lived there on a regular day.”

The Centre’s president, Ken Dudley, who was conducting tours of the grounds for the Irish Village during the East Durham Irish Festival, spoke to IrishCentral about the roject.

“The village will be called Ballygreene, and will depict life as it was in Ireland between 1860 and 1870,” Dudley said.

The Donegal cottage

The organization chose that specific time period in Irish history because it is a “positive time,” according to Dudley, when people in the U.S. were sending money back to Ireland, and the country was “really starting to get its freedoms.”

The first building of the Irish Village, the Donegal Cottage, is already built, and stands on the 120-acre grounds of East Durham’s Irish Cultural Centre. Every piece of the thatched roof cottage was shipped from Ireland, and is authentically “Irish.”

The Donegal Cottage is just the beginning – East Durham’s Irish Village aims to be the largest Irish museum in the U.S. The finished product will feature buildings representing each county in Ireland, all of which will come to life on a daily basis with Irish villagers going about a typical day in the mid 19th century.

“Nothing like this exists in the States or in Ireland,” said Dudley. “I envision that schoolchildren will come and get first-hand education about what life was like in Ireland.”

Red brick map of Ireland

All nationalities will be welcome to the Village to enjoy and learn about Irish traditions.

Already built within the Michael J. Quill Cultural Centre grounds is the Irish Park, a 1-acre life-size map of Ireland made out of red bricks. All the Irish counties are represented, are marked with county flags and are measured to scale.

The Park’s primary purpose is to fund the Irish Village project.

Supporters of the project can create “family heritage bricks” that will lie within the county of your choice in the Irish Park.

Families have donated $100 to the Irish Village by purchasing a brick as a uniquely Irish, symbolic way to commemorate deceased relatives and celebrate family weddings and baptisms.

“When someone passes, I don’t buy flowers,” said Dudley. “I buy a brick.”

Some groups have bought a brick just to show their support for the Cultural Centre’s unique and ambitious mission. After performing at the East Durham Irish Festival, popular Irish American band The Elders purchased a brick that read: “The Elders love East Durham.”

To create your own Irish family heritage brick in the East Durham Irish Park, and to show your support for the Irish Village project, click here.

Your donation will go to a noble Irish cause, and as Dudley says, will help “record the history of Ireland as accurately as possible so future generations can learn about their heritage.”