Irish government helps fund Canton Cultural Centre expansion

Seth Jacobson

For 20 years, the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton has been operating with an all-volunteer staff. But thanks to a $350,000 grant from the government of Ireland, the centre will now be able to hire two crucial full-time staff members—a director of programming and a director of development and membership.

“We’d like to have the two positions filled by Labor Day,” said Irish Cultural Centre Executive Director Sean Grant. “The need is there. The demand is there. Our members deserve to have a full-time staff.”

Grant said with the two new positions, the centre will be able to provide more programming and will be able to function more smoothly overall.

“We’ll be able to offer more things to our members,” Grant said, adding the benefits in question will become clearer over the next few months.

“We’ve grown in size over the last 20 years and that’s an amazing testament to our volunteers,” Grant said. “But the demands have been taking up all our volunteers’ time. Through their tireless efforts, they’ve reached the point where they’ve gone as far as they can.”

He explained over the last 20 years, most of the volunteers’ time has been taken up by planning the annual Irish Cultural Centre festival, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year. The festival will be held Sept. 12, 13, and 14.

He said the festival has been “leased out” to an outside organization because of insurance liabilities, but noted the centre is still very much involved in the event itself.

Grant said the festival used to be held at Stonehill College when the centre was based in its West Roxbury headquarters, where the organization spent its first 10 years.

The centre moved to Canton 10 years ago and since then, the festival has taken place on the centre grounds, which boasts 48 acres of usable land.

“The festival has always given people a flavor of what Irish hospitality is all about,” Grant said.

He added the centre is also now home to the Gaelic Athletic Association, which has plenty of space to host sporting events.

Last year, the centre hosted the band, The Black Crowes and also The Dropkick Murphys in a double-venue that drew huge crowds.

It’s more of these big-draw type of events that Grant says can happen with a full-time staff in place.

“We’re going to be able to develop more programming and host more events,” Grant stressed.

With a large Jewish population in Canton, Grant said the ties between that and the town’s Irish population has always been strong.

“What some people don’t know is that the kitchen at the Irish Cultural Centre is a kosher kitchen,” he said. “And there’s a very big Jewish community in Dublin. A lot of people don’t realize that.”

Grant says he is thrilled to be able to put a full-time staff in place and thinks it will definitely help with his long-term goal of having the centre be the place to go in New England when it comes to learning about Irish culture.

“We’re not looking to dominate any other organization,” he said. “We’re looking to be an umbrella organization for help, resources and ideas. We want to work collectively with other organizations.”

In awarding the grant to the centre back in June, Irish Consul General David Barry said, “I congratulate the board of directors on their plans and vision for the future outlined in (its) strategic plan. In awarding this grant, I also hope to recognize the energetic volunteers over the last 20 years who have brought the idea of an Irish Cultural Centre in New England to fruition. I especially want to recognize the (centre’s) president, Michael O’Connor, one of the original founders.”