Irish WNY / The Buffalo Irish Center
Photo by kc kratt
Directly inside South Buffalo’s Irish Heritage District on Abbott Street, a large building built in the 1920s was once a YMCA athletic club but today is well-known by the region’s large population of Irish-Americans as the Buffalo Irish Center.
BIC is Western New York’s only Irish Heritage Center and survives solely thanks to the hard work of its volunteers and the generous donations of its patrons. Its many facilities include the beautiful Emerald Room, once the YMCA’s gymnasium, and the Claddagh room, the smaller of two ballrooms. There’s a pub that has been recently expanded, and a small library stocked with books on Irish folklore and heritage, with artwork by Ted Jones and paintings from the National Art Gallery on its walls.
The Center was founded in 1970 by the St. Patrick’s Irish-American Club and the Knights of Equity Court 5, which combined to form the Gaelic American Athletic Association (GAAA) of Buffalo. GAAA is now the Center’s official organization and primary financial supporter. GAAA Chairman Mary Henegan recalls, “Originally, my feeling was that it was a place for emigrants to meet and socialize, but now it’s become a heritage center where our mission is to maintain and pass down the [Irish] traditions and culture.”
Since the center’s opening, its number of affiliated organizations has grown to seventeen, and the building is still undergoing renovations to accommodate the needs of all the clubs it now houses. “When they initially opened the building, there were probably three or four organizations in it at most,” says Heneghan. “Now we have two pipe bands, two dance schools, ladies’ organizations, men’s organizations, and adult ceili dancers, among other groups and associations.”
Just to name a few of its affiliates, the Center is home to the School of Irish Culture, Knights of Equity, Court 5, the Daughters of Erin, Rince Na Tiarna Irish Dancers, and their most recent club, Celtic Angels Choir—a children’s choir that performs traditional Irish songs in Gaelic. Events hosted by these organizations include storytelling, music, dance, workshops, pub nights, traditional Seisiuns, and lessons on folklore, history, geography, and more. Perhaps some of the most enriching educational experiences offered at the center are language lessons in Gaelic taught by Margaret McGrath.
The center even puts out its own newspaper, the Buffalo Irish Times. The Times is created entirely by volunteers sharing Irish news, stories, event listings, and historical information. The paper puts out five issues per year, and is offered free to GAAA members.
“The center is now evolving again, as any organization has to change with the times.So we’re hosting what’s called ‘Under the Tent’—American-style music out in the parking lot—and it’s been very successful,” Heneghan says. “It draws people to the building who may not think of stopping at the Irish Center, and it opens up their eyes to the other assets we have here.”
Events at the Center
The Irish Center is a hub of activity for classes, clubs, and general fellowship. Check their website for more information.
Many of the organizations that meet and hold activities are based on membership, but often, memberships are open to all who are interested and willing to participate. Such groups include the Buffalo Irish Genealogical Society, The School of Irish Culture, the Buffalo Irish Arts Society of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. You may become a member of the Buffalo Irish Center by joining the Gaelic-American Athletic Association.
SUNY Fredonia senior Rebecca Hale is a 2015 Spree intern.