Irish-American Club holds on to Irish heritage

As with many good Irish events and organizations, the Irish-American Club of Naples started with a few pints of Guinness and grew from there.

The club helped preserve and grow Irish culture in Collier County for nearly 20 years and will be celebrating their heritage in a big way this St. Patrick’s Day.

The club was first organized in 1989. At the time, Guinness was not sold at any store in the county, recalled Mike Joynter, the club’s first president.

There were two local sources for the dark stout in the 80s: Erin’s Isle in East Naples and a once-a-year private delivery by a snowbird driving the beer down to Florida from the Northeast to share with friends.

It may have been a pint-sized beginning for the Irish-American Club of Naples, but Joynter encouraged Guinness distributors that Dublin’s famous stout beer would in fact sell in Florida’s warmer climate.

Once Irish-Americans were able to get a proper pint, or case, of Guinness in Collier County, they were able to focus their efforts on the cultural and social goals of the Irish-American Club of Naples.

“We’re really proud of our history. The second word, American, is as important as the first. We want to call attention to the fact that the Irish did a lot for this country,” Joynter said.

The Irish fought in the Revolutionary War, helping the United States gain independence from England, and Irish-Americans fought in every war in American history after that, he pointed out.

The Irish-American Club of Naples was founded by less than two dozen former Northerners who grew to miss their hometown doses of Irish culture provided by their community Irish-American clubs.

Members, now nearly 300 of them, began picking up their bagpipes, penny whistles and flutes or putting on their dancing shoes for set dancing at dinner parties, called ceilis (pronounced Kay-Lees). The club, which is still in search of a permanent facility of their own, has held these dinner parties and their monthly meetings at members’ homes and various churches, schools and community centers throughout their history.

Their meetings are currently held at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at the VFW Post 7721 on Pine Ridge Road and Collier Boulevard. Meetings are open to everyone.

Members come from varying ethnic ancestries but most include at least some Irish ancestry and about one-third of the members were born in Ireland.

The current president of the Irish-American Club of Naples, Linda Macchia comes from Irish and Italian ancestry.

“When I was a kid I wasn’t that curious about my ancestry. I wish I was. I just wore green to school and felt proud,” Macchia said.

Macchia’s curiosity grew as she got older.

“My grandmother had a cool accent and made good soda bread. There are so many things I’d like to ask my grandmother now,” she said.

Since joining the organization over 10 years ago, Macchia picked up Irish instruments, including the bodhran drum and tin whistle and now plays with West of Galway, a band brought together by the Irish-American Club that now “packs the place” at Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub on Bonita Beach Road and Naples locations.

The West of Galway band includes several other Irish-American club members, including their guitar player Jimmy McEvoy, city of Naples Fire Chief and third-generation Irish.

Bernie Green plays the 12-string guitar and says playing with the band brings back memories of his family members packing their Philadelphia kitchen and playing Irish music together in what the Irish call a “hooley in the kitchen.”

The Irish-American Club’s largest dinner and ceili is a celebration of St. Patrick, the saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland. The Annual St. Pat’s Dinner and Ceili was March 9.

The club has been instrumental in bringing more Irish culture, not only to club members but to the entire community, drawing regional, national and international artists and performers.

The Irish-American Club has hosted a large festival for St. Patrick’s Day nearly every year since they first organized. The festival had some bad luck with weather for a couple years, including sleeting rain one year and floods the next.

“It was a total financial disaster,” recalled Joynter.

But if the Irish could live through the potato famine of the late 1840s, then Irish-Americans could live through some bad weather in the 2000s. Just as many Irish migrated to the United States to survive the famine, the Irish-American Club has moved their party away from the possible muddy fields of the Collier County Fairgrounds closer to downtown Naples.

This year the club has organized a “Hooley on the Green” (party in the grass) following Naples 30th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in Florida, which draws up to 50,000 people from miles away.

The Hooley on the Green Irish Festival will be held from noon to 7 p.m. on March 15 at the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Goodlette-Frank Road. Irish performers will include the Harp and Thistle Pipe Band, Inish, Andy Wahlberg, the Gaelic Gormans, The Fenians, West of Galway and Tir Na Nog Irish Dancers of the Naples-Marco Dance Academy. Tickets are $7 and organizers say they will offer “the cheapest Guinness in town.”

The festival will include Irish-style goods, including popular T-shirts, traditional Irish food and authentic Celtic jewelry.

The Irish-American Club will have several entries in the parade which begins at 11 a.m. March 15.

“We’ll start parading down Fifth like big shots,” Joynter said.

The club will have three floats in the parade, including a large float displaying flags and crests representing the four provinces and 32 counties of Ireland. There will be other club entries including Joynter’s handmade 10-foot tall replica of a Celtic cross and Molly Malone.

Molly Malone is the character from a 17th century song, “Cockles and Mussels,” the unofficial anthem of Ireland’s Dublin city. In the song, Molly Malone is a beautiful fish monger selling seafood on the street from her push cart. She is often referred to as “the tart with the cart, the dish with the fish or the trollop with the scallops,”

Joynter said.

For more information about the Irish-American Club of Naples and upcoming events, visit www.naplesirish.com or call 774-3267.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features