The Philadelphia Irish Center-Commodore Barry Club History

Many of us claim Irish heritage, but also those who don’t are welcome at the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center. Feel free to enjoy the vibrant and warm Irish culture and benefit from the center’s facilities such as the elegant and spacious ballroom.

The Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center—formerly known as the Philadelphia Irish Center/Commodore Barry Club—has had a long and storied history. Here are some of the highlights.

1905
The Pelham Auto Club is Built

“It was Pelham’s social institution, with billiards, a bowling alley, a dining room, a ballroom, card rooms, and a garage with a full-time mechanic.”

28 Sep 1936
Pelham Club Becomes First Home of Germantown Jewish Centre

The Centre leased the auditorium for $200 a month. “It was the largest auditorium in the city at that time and for many years after. It had a seating capacity of 750 at tables and 1,200 in chairs for lectures. This was the space we rented as our first home.”

25 Jan 1944
32-County Ball 1944

You’ll see a reference later on to the 32-County Ball, but that one is for the Irish Center’s 50th anniversary. This is a pre-Irish Center Commodore Barry Society “do.” A few IDs: Mary & Peter Corcoran, far right; Catherine Lennon Corcoran, 4th from right.

1952
Commodore John Barry USN Society Established

1958
Philadelphia Ceili Group Founded

The Irish Center-based Ceili Group was founded at the Irish Center to promote Irish music and culture. The Ceili Group launched its annual festival in 1975, inspired by folklorist Mick Moloney and others, at Fischer’s Pool. See also this Bronx Irish News Stand article.

5 Jan 1958
Commodore John Barry Society Inc. Formed

The corporation bought the Irish Center.

8 Aug 1958

The Barry Society Moves In

1 Nov 1958
The First Event: The Mayo Ball

17 Mar 1959
First St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

It was held by the Philadelphia Ancient Order of Hibernians in the building’s capacious ballroom.

13 Jun 1959
The First Wedding Reception

A June wedding, of course. Rosemary McDevitt and Tom Gaughan celebrate.

5 Jul 1965
Darren McGavin Stops By

To judge the Miss Mayo contest, no less!

31 Dec 1969
New Year’s Eve at the Irish Center 1969

“New Year’s Eve at the Irish Center promises to be a fitting climax to a record-breaking year.” So says the Irish-American Herald. Headlining the bash: the famous Irish ballad singer Mary McConagle.

12 Sep 1971
Commodore John Barry Parade

The parade celebrated Barry Day in Philadelphia, heading from 20th and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway all the way to Independence Hall. Irish Center-based county associations, including Mayo and Donegal, took part. Former Mayor James Tate was honorary chairman.

1 Jul 1976
Renowned Poet Gives a Lecture

The poet is Dublin’s famed Basil Payne, a two-time Guinness International Poetry Prize winner.

1 Jan 1981
Attracta O’Malley Becomes First Woman President of the Mayo Association of Philadelphia

The association first admitted women as full members in 1966.

27 Sep 1991
Cocktail Party to Discuss Commodore Barry Club Capital Improvements Campaign

More than 100 representatives of Delaware Valley Irish organizations attended, as did James McIntyre, Ireland vice consul, and Joe Egan, then a Philadelphia mayoral candidate. Major repairs and upgrades included the heating system, plumbing, and electrical work. Kathleen McGurk was chairman of the board of directors.

16 Oct 1998
Gerry Adams Speaks

He celebrated his 50th birthday at the Irish Center.

21 Mar 2008
A Visit from Michael Collins

No, not that Michael Collins. Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and his wife, Marie, visited the Irish Center after the ambassador spoke to a gathering in Philadelphia of the Irish American Business Chamber and Network.

31 Dec 2008
Celebrating the Irish Center’s 50th Anniversary

The 32-County Ball closed out the Irish Center’s 50th year as home to the Delaware Valley’s Irish and Irish-Americans. One of the highlights was a grand parade of all the counties. The beloved Tommy Moffit smilingly represented his home country, Roscommon.

15 Mar 2009
A Visit from the Cloughaneely Cloughaneely Marching Band

The three-time All-Ireland winners strutted their stuff at the 2009 After-Parade Party.

13 Jul 2012
The Sam Maguire Cup Come to the Center

Donegal Coach Jim McGuinness, along with all-stars Mark McHugh and Michael Murphy, members of the 2012 All-Ireland Football champion team, brought the trophy to the Irish Center, for what was one hugely exciting night for Donegal fans.

19 Jun 2013
A Rally for Reform

Ciaran Staunton, president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, came to Philadelphia this week to urge the Irish community to press its only uncommitted US Senator to vote yes on S.744, the immigration reform bill.

7 May 2014
Friends of the Irish Center Launch First Fund-Raising Campaign

The campaign raised $82,000 in four months.

Check out also this post about Woodlawn-The Bronx Little Ireland