Irish American Heritage Center

Irish immigrants have been making Chicago their home since the 1830s, with the last large wave of Irish immigrants arriving in the 1980s.  Therefore, it is not surprising that twelve of Chicago’s mayors have been Irish, including Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s longest-running mayor (who served from 1989 to 2011).  Through the efforts of Chicago’s Irish population, Chicago has an annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, and has been dying the Chicago River green on the day of the parade since 1962.  Unfortunately, Chicago had to break its St. Patrick’s Day tradition in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19.

I have never attended Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations but have heard that the River is fun to see, and that the crowd is usually intoxicated.  Despite missing out on the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I have visited Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center (IHAC).  Founded in 1976, the IHAC is located in the Mayfair neighborhood of Chicago.  The IHAC is essentially a club for people of Irish heritage.  It hosts drama, music, Gaelic language classes, a quilting club, an Irish singing group, an Irish Fest, and more.  Most importantly for me, though, is that it has a library and museum.

Ireland’s president, Mary Robinson, came to the grand opening of the IHAC’s museum in 1991.  Today, the museum is only open during special events or upon prior arrangement with an available docent, so I have not had a chance to see it yet.  However, I have visited the IHAC’s beautiful library.  Founded in 2006, the library houses approximately 25,000 books, 3,000 LPs, 1,000 audiocassettes, 500 CDs, and more.  Additionally, the library has a wealth of Irish newspapers and a genealogy section, making it a wonderful place for people of Irish decent to research their families.

When I visited the library, I received a warm welcome from the retired women who volunteer their time to keep the place running.  One of them even had an Irish accent!  They were lovely.  Although I did not meet her, I know that an actual librarian was working on making the library’s catalog searchable online.  I dot not remember if people can borrow the library’s books and take them home or not, but I think they can.  If they cannot, though, the library still has a wonderful reading space.  The library also hosts a book club, open to anyone, in which a different Irish book is discussed each month.

I did not know this until today, but the IHAC runs an Irish American Hall of Fame.  Every year, since 2011, the group has been inducting several Americans of Irish decent into their Hall of Fame.  Many famous people are on the list including the current U.S. President, Joe Biden; the novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald; and the Academy Award-winning actor, Spencer Tracy.

If you are of Irish decent and find yourself in Chicago, then you should stop by the Irish American Heritage Center.

Sources and Further Reading

“About Us.” Irish American Heritage Center. (accessed March 12, 2021).

“Chicago River Won’t Be Dyed Green for St. Patrick’s Day This Year.” NBC Chicago. March 12, 2021. (accessed March 12, 2021).

Dougherty, Monica and Mary Beth Sammons. Irish American Heritage Center. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

“Dyeing of the Chicago River.” Time Out. (accessed March 12, 2021).

Irish American Hall of Fame. (accessed March 12, 2021).

“Library.” Irish American Heritage Center. (accessed March 12, 2021).

“Museum.” Irish American Heritage Center. (accessed March 12, 2021).

Skerrett, Ellen. “Irish.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. (accessed March 12, 2021).


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