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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Brief History of the Irish Social Club in Boston


by Michael Quinlin

Like the history of the Irish in Boston itself, the Irish Social Club of Boston has an illustrious story.  The Club dates back to June 27, 1945, when it was first incorporated as a non-profit group by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  It operated out of  Hibernian Hall in Dudley Square, Roxbury, where the Club held Sunday afternoon ceili dances each week, created step dancing feisanna for children, and beginning in 1962, organized charter flights from Boston to Ireland for its members.

Founding members included Nora (O'Brien) Hart, the first president of the Irish Social Club, who died in 1946, and Mary Concannon, who was described as the 'heart and soul of the organization' until her death in 1975.

The early days of the Irish Social Club were vibrant, as returning GIs from World War II and a new generation of Irish immigrants vitalized the Boston Irish community.  This was particularly true about Dudley Street in Roxbury where the Irish congregated, as recounted in the book, See you at the Hall.

A November 1945 story in the Irish World newspaper by columnist Eva Connor reported that over 500 people attended a recent Irish Social Club dance at Hibernian Hall.  " A fine group of musicians furnished the music including Mrs. Nora McCarthy, Johnny Fitzgerald, James Concannon and Tom Senier," she wrote.

Later, when Hibernian Hall shut down in the 1960s (it was restored and reopened in 2005 as the Roxbury Center for the Arts),  the Irish Social Club shifted its events to Metropolitan Hall in Jamaica Plain, and then moved to its own club house at 79 Stanton Street in Dorchester, where it stayed until 1975.  Then between 1975-1980 the Irish Social Club met at the T. J. Roberts American Legion Post in West Roxbury, according to the Irish Social Club's literature.

On May 28, 1980, the Irish Social Club held its grand opening and formal dedication at its current home at 119 Park Street in West Roxbury.  Speakers at the ceremony included Damien Boyle, vice-consulate of Ireland, Andrew J. Sheehan, president of the Irish Social Club, and Reverend James Harrold, S.M.A., Club Chaplain.

The program booklet at the dedication stated, "That this beautiful building was built without a mortgage, clearly indicates the magnitude and viability of the organization."

At the height of its popularity, the club boasted 15,000 members, some from as far away as Florida and California.  But in recent years, due to aging membership, competition from other Irish venues, and the gradual assimilation of the Irish into American society, the club dwindled and was nearly dissolved in April 2011.

But now a new effort is underway to revive the Irish Social Club and restore it to its past standing as a popular gathering place for people interested in enjoying their Irish culture and heritage. You can follow the progress on the Irish Social Club Facebook.

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For more about Boston's Irish history, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com. For ongoing information on Irish activities in greater Boston, visit IrishBoston.org.

Excerpts from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish History, published by Globe Pequot Press.

(Author's Note: I am grateful to Jack Concannon of Braintree for sharing information on his mother, Mary Concannon and her work on behalf of the Irish Social Club.)












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