Updated: Sep 16, 2021
The Irish Cultural Society emerged from the participation of the founding members in various social and cultural activities. At the time that the ICS was forming in 1985 there were four registered Irish dance schools (Houston, Irwin, Pettigrew and Regent) in Calgary, and the Chieftains GAA Club and the Calgary Irish Canadian Athletic Club (Rugby and Ladies Field Hockey) were well established. Irish music groups entertained and people socialized at house parties and bars. A group of Queen’s Belfast alumni had held informal lunches during the past few years. Drama groups Wild Rose Players and Peacock Players had previously staged productions of Irish content. An Irish Club had recently operated in Forest Lawn. External factors including the prevailing situation in Ireland, immigration trends, and the consciousness of multiculturalism in Canada would also have been part of the context.
Within the Irish Community there was interest in forming an Irish Club, reviving a Drama Group and organising an Irish Language Class. This triggered discussions about what the purpose and nature of the Irish Club should be. As we talked the thinking focussed on the concept of a society that would promote Irish culture, help raise awareness of things that were already happening, and encourage or initiate new opportunities. Meanwhile the Irish Class was arranged and the drama group progressed as a separate entity.
It was important to establish the values that the society would be based on and that were hoped would be enduring. In that regard it was informative to learn from the experiences of previous Irish organizations. Hugh Neary recounted activities of the St. Patrick’s Society that existed in the 1960’s and Kathy Cote told of an Irish group that held dress dances in the Palliser Hotel and sponsored a Rose of Tralee contestant. Learning about such experiences helped to guide the way forward for an Irish organization that might be more sustainable. Eventually various ideas gelled into what became the objects of the Society and its operating philosophy.
By December 1985 the names Irish Cultural Society and Liffey Players were settled upon and a benefit concert was held at the Hillhurst Community Hall to raise funds for these societies. We had a small poster to promote the concert and included a Celtic design border copied from an All-Ireland Hurling Final program. A Celtic image from that program subsequently became the ICS emblem. The use of the Celtic knot design signifying ‘eternity’ was intended to represent a link to Irishness that was non-political and non-sectarian, matters that were important to the founding members of the society at that time.
The Irish Cultural Society of Calgary (ICS) was incorporated following a meeting on February 1st 1986 at the Stampeder Inn (now Days Inn) on Macleod Trail. The meeting was facilitated by Brian Weldon who had prepared the draft bylaws for the society. The approved objects of the society were:
To promote and nurture Irish Cultural activities.
To reinforce the sense of identity of the Irish Community in Calgary.
To act as a communications medium with regard to matters of interest of the Irish/Canadian Community.
To establish an Irish Cultural Centre.
Pending the first Annual meeting of the Society an Interim Board was elected: President – Dan Bolger, Vice President – Tom Casey, Secretary - Anne Cowman, Treasurer - Collette Smithers, and Directors - John Cleary, James O’Doherty and Jim Cox.
The foundation of the ICS responded to an interest by members of the Irish community in Calgary to join together in the enjoyment of a shared heritage. The participants that day spoke of the social camaraderie found in their common experience, the potential that cooperative effort could enhance opportunities for cultural activities, and a desire to enrich the cultural legacy for their children growing up in Canada. There was strong sentiment expressed that the society should be welcoming to those with an interest in Irish culture and be non-political and non-sectarian in nature.
Once elected the board got busy on a variety of actions. The initiatives that became the core activities of the Society are outlined in the following sections. The common features that made these activities successful was the spirit of camaraderie and volunteerism and sense of ‘Irishness’ without which none of it would have been possible.
ICS Board 1987. Front row Ann Cowman, Collette Smithers. Back Row Jim Cox, Dan Bolger, Paddy Slater, Tom Casey and Brian Evans