While some people only get excited about Ireland on March 17, the Irish American Cultural Institute loves all things Irish every day of the year and wants to share the country’s history and culture with today’s generation and those to come.
With St. Patrick’s Day a few days away, many are looking forward to wearing green and being Irish for the day. But that celebration lasts beyond March 17 for the Irish American Cultural Institute, which shares culture and history of Ireland every day of the year.
“Year round, we are very busy,” said F. Peter Halas, chairman emeritus of IACI. “When we started, nationally, this was the only organizations that did anything with Irish history and culture.”
Founded in 1962, the organization holds close ties with Ireland. “We are the only organization whose patron is the president of Ireland,” Halas noted. IACI also keeps the Ireland connection alive, having loaned its Helen Hooker O’Malley Art Collection, valued at more than $1 million and containing the works of several Irish artists, to Ireland’s University of Limerick.
Focused on promoting Irish history and culture, one of the group’s more popular programs is a four-week summer trip for students. “We have a program called Irish Way, an immersion program for high school students where they go to Ireland,” Halas said. “It’s open to anyone who is interested in Ireland, but mostly people whose families are Irish go.”
In the program, students see the “magical landscape” of Ireland and learn about the country’s history through workshops, classes, and tours.
As IACI is based in New Jersey, it celebrates one of this country’s key historical figures through its Washington’s St. Patrick’s Day Ball. The annual gala, which took place last month, benefits IACI’s educational and arts programs and commemorates George Washington’s appreciation of the Irish.
“The first holiday [for Revolutionary War soldiers in two years] was George Washington giving St. Patrick’s day off,” Halas said. “He had a lot of Irish soldiers under his command.”
IACI also publishes Duchas, an e-newsletter for members, and an academic journal. “We publish Eire Ireland, the leading Irish studies journal for Irish academics and professors,” Halas said. “It’s been around since 1966, and we are continuing it today. It’s in every major library.”
IACI has both individual members and chapters. “Locally, here on the Jersey Shore and in Rochester, we have very active chapters who do presentations on Irish history and culture that are well attended,” Halas said.
Halas said IACI loves it any time attention is turned to Ireland, whether for St. Patrick’s Day or any other day of the year.
“Really, we have all-year round programs for Irish history,” Halas said. “Irish history and culture go back as long or longer than many cultures in the world. We have spectacular literature, mythology, architecture, astronomy, and we’d like to improve the appreciation of it, in this generation and the next one.”