Hofstra Pulse Magazine

Keeping the Culture

By: Nadia Lindstrom

 

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Established in 1932, the Irish American Society was built as a place to let the Irish celebrate and preserve their culture through music and dance.

 

“In the old days, there would be a dance here Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night,” said Patrick Kearney, President of the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens. “The place would be packed. I remember coming here and not being able to get a table. There would be about 500 people that would come here to hear a band from Ireland.”

 

In 2014, the IAS isn’t thriving like it used to. While there are almost 900 current members, only 50 or 60 actively continue to participate in meetings, elections, or events each month, and they are struggling to bring in new members.

 

In the early days of the IAS, there were people from Ireland than there are today. The current goal is to make membership more appealing to the Irish American second and third generations.

 

“My personal goal is to get the young people involved and give them, say, one night a month and get the children involved,” suggested Kearney. “There’s nothing going on here for children, other than teaching them how to dance.”

 

unnamed1(Member volunteers in the kitchen. From left, Mike Byrne, President Patrick Kearney, and Patrick Kerins.)

 

“The elderly people want to keep what they’re familiar with. But as the elderly die off, there’s nobody coming up to replace them,” Kearney continues. “There’s a big gap in there, and the younger people, they don’t dance the same way we did so they’re uninterested in coming to dances. It’s kind of hard to find something that fits everybody.”

 

“I think the [young people] should be aware of their heritage; acknowledge and respect it,” said Anne Mulvey, who moved to New York from Ireland in 1986. “Knowing where you come from goes a long way to knowing who you are.”

 

The Irish American Society offers step classes and competitions, music lessons with traditional Irish instruments, as well as less traditional events such as yoga and knitting.

 

Anyone of Irish decent can become a member of the IAS, and spouses of Irish people can become associate members. You need not be a member, however, to partake in the events and classes held at the society headquarters. a fee is paid at the door that entitles you to the privileges that the members have for the night.

 

Keeping the Irish culture alive in New York is important to Kearney and the other members of the Irish American society.

 

“It helps people to understand us,” Kearney explained. “The average person thinks the Irish men like to drink and fight. It might have been true to a degree, but it’s not a true picture.”

 

“I would join an Iris Center if there was one close by,” Said Mulvey. “The Tara Circle fought for ten years to be [in our town], but the community fought back. They were afraid the center would draw a “drinking” element, making our roads dangerous.”

 

The average immigrant, like Kearney, is very loyal to America.

 

“I have always believed that if I was going to live in the U.S., I would fully assimilate into the culture,”said Mulvey. “I saw it as an opportunity to open my mind and expand my thinking.”

 

“There’s very few Irish men I know hat would put Ireland ahead,” added Kearney. “As much as they love the place, and their roots are from there, America still comes first.”

 

Just a few minutes from the Mineola train station, the Irish American Society is in a diverse neighborhood. Surrounded by large Portuguese, German, and Italian populations, the IAS has learned to interact with other ethnic communities as well as the Irish American Long Islanders.

 

“It’s a matter of mixing cultures,” said Kearney. “You have to mix cultures. This way you understand their culture and they understand ours.”

 

In the past, there were lots of people who came to the Irish American society with their children. And now, years later, their children are going there with their children. It takes about $156,000 a year to keep the doors open, and without proper funding and interest from the Irish American community, the future of the IAS is uncertain.

 

“If you are second generation, you most likely will get [the Irish culture] by osmosis from your parent,” said Mulvey. “You hear the accent, learn the songs, eat the holiday Christmas cake, or see it anyway.”

 

“It’s the third generation that I think about,” she continued. “How do they keep cultural traditions alive? Some of it passes down, but eventually, without some local influence, it likely diminishes.”

 

“That’s the message I’m trying to get across,” said Kearney. “Your mother brought you here for dancing. Where is your daughter going to bring her kids in 30 years?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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