Irish Heritage Center adds to lively calendar

From monthly sing-songs to geneaology lessons, visitors to Cincinnati’s Irish Heritage Center discover a new world of learning. Since it opened in the former McKinley School on Eastern Avenue, the Center has grown through much more than the luck of the Irish. Grassroots efforts continue to fuel a growing roster of programs and services, including a custom-made exhibit from the Dublin Library.

Heritage Center Founder Maureen Kennedy credits the dedication of volunteers determined to share their love of all things Irish. “The Center was imagined by many many people over the past 50 years,” she says. After purchasing the former Cincinnati Public School in 2009, the new non-profit discovered the power of grassroots support. “The school has been lovingly restored by a team of volunteers, room by room.”

The Center, which encompasses the space of a city block, includes a theater, tea room, social room, library, music room and dance room. There are also plans for a museum. Additional space is available for artist studios, club meetings, events and concerts.

“They have done an unbelievable job,” says Margaret McGurk, a supporter of the Center. She ticks off a list of regular events and activities, plus future plans that define “ambitious,” especially considering the group’s youth and limited resources. “They have done all of this with no paid staff, no public relations. They have grown so fast.”

A recent coup for Kennedy took shape while she was out of town. The Irish American Theater Company
 artistic director had implored Ireland's National Library in Dublin to share a piece of its renowned W. B. Yeats exhibit with the Cincinnati Center. When she finally received an answer last month—an answer that confirmed that a custom version of the exhibit was already on its way to Cincinnati--she was on vacation.

In true grassroots fashion, Kennedy immediately set to work sharing the news with educators and members.

But the exhibit is just part of what the Center offers to visitors. In addition to monthly Mick & Friends gatherings for fun and story-sharing, programs range from dancing lessons to concerts. “This spring, we begin instruction in sports--Gaelic ?games for 7 to 10 year-olds--Irish Football and hurling,” Kennedy says. “We strive to be a vibrant Center for all things Irish so our children and grandchildren can ?know from whence they came.”

But she stresses that when it comes to programs and activities, everyone is blessed with a touch of the Irish. “Membership is open to anyone with any tie whatsoever, including wondering why the grass is so green,” she says. “In other words, it is inclusive of all ethnicities, religious persuasions, political affiliations and so on, but is focused on?telling the story of the Island of Ireland, through entertainment in all its ?dimensions.”

Do Good:

Visit the W. B. Yeats exhibit while you can—the run is limited.

Like the Irish Heritage Center on Facebook to keep up with the latest news.

• Go to a Rockin and Readin concert by a Larry Kirwan, member of punk-inspired, New York City Irish rock band Black 47.

By Elissa Yancey/Follow Elissa on Twitter
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