The Irish Centre has a long history of supporting newcomers in Edmonton and Northern Alberta. As the gateway city to the oil sands, new arrivals often land in Edmonton to get the lay of the land and come to the Irish Centre to get firsthand advice from those who arrived anywhere from a month to four decades before them.
The Irish Sports & Social Society was formed in 1958 by a group of newcomers from Ireland, providing a place where people could socialize with other newcomers from Ireland and participate in cultural and sporting events that helped them maintain their connection to home. From organizing St. Patrick’s Day dances to the start of Irish dancing in the city, the society has been active in both in providing sports and social events for Irish people and being an ambassador for Irish culture in Edmonton. The Feis started in 1972 is North America’s longest running feis, and the Irish pavilion at the city’s Heritage Days Festival was one of the founding entries into the festival.
In 1986, the society purchased and refurbished the Irish Centre, which poured its first pint of Guinness in 1987. The Centre is a hub of activity year-round in Edmonton’s Irish community. There is music and Irish dancing, poetry, and in the summer months, all the GAA matches brought in live via satellite. With the time difference between Edmonton and Ireland, most matches fall in the morning, so members who come out to watch get a full Irish breakfast with admission. The society is also a long-time supporter of the local GAA club, the Edmonton Wolfe Tones. The Irish Centre is also one of the global centres for the Rose of Tralee, where the Western Canada Rose is selected each year.
As a volunteer organization, a lot of energy goes in to keeping the Centre running on a day-to-day basis and all of the events running smoothly. Volunteers include immigrants from Ireland, first-generation Irish Canadian and Canadians from all backgrounds. With a welcoming atmosphere and a commitment to make their community a better place, the Irish Centre will continue to go beyond and open its doors to those who are in need.