A light mid-winter rain descends from somber gray skies enhancing the angular stonework of a 12th Century Norman castle keep. Huddled nearby is a cozy, white 1850s croft (cottage) with an inviting peat-burning fireplace. Across the courtyard, just past the entrance to The Great Hall, a rugged henge-like structure called An Gorta Mór memorializes the Great Irish Famine.
To find this enchanting glimpse of the Emerald Isle, you won’t need to travel half-way around the world. Just visit the Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library, right here in the heart of downtown Phoenix! Begin at the Visitor Center to gather some free brochures and helpful tips from receptionist, Ann Hines. From there, you may choose to wander the facility at your own pace, or for a more in-depth experience and a small fee, sign up for a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable volunteers such as Therese Beckman.
“The cottage,” says Therese, “represents the heart of our Irish culture, and the beautiful library facility represents the mind or intellect.”
She explains that the cottage or “croft” is a replica of an existing cottage located in County Clare, Ireland. It offers insights into the daily life of 19th century Irish families, particularly the women, who often supplemented meager family incomes with textile weaving, needlework and other “cottage industries.”
The imposing McClelland Irish Library was designed by architect Paul Ahern and inspired by a 12th Century Norman castle. On the exterior, every detail, from the high stone battlements and Romanesque arches to the heavy wooden doors, draws the visitor back in time to ancient Ireland.
On the interior, the library houses a modern, world-class collection of over 8,000 books and materials relating to Irish history, literature, poetry, culture and biography, including four Irish Nobel Prize winners. Whether browsing the stacks for personal enjoyment or doing scholarly research in the rare book room, the friendly staff can help guide your selections.
The crown jewel of the library is the permanent exhibit of a rare full-color facsimile of the famous Book of Kells. The magnificent exhibit visuals were provided by Trinity College in Dublin, where the original Book of Kells resides. Another attractive gallery houses touring exhibits on relevant Irish topics such as the 1916 Easter Rising.
Interested in family history? On the second floor there is an extensive British Isles collection of genealogical research materials and tools, including 15 computers and two microfiche readers. Workshops and lectures are available for both novice and advanced genealogical researchers, as well as a variety of tools and free tips on the ICC website.
Volunteers are available to assist the public on a daily basis in addition to two professional genealogists on staff who can provide in-depth guidance for a nominal fee. Individual and group tours of the library are offered at varying rates, depending on the size and content of the tour. For appointments and fee information call 602-864-2353 or visit the library website at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community outreach and education is a dynamic goal of the ICC. Individuals and families are invited to participate in a wide range of classes and events celebrating Irish music, dance, arts, literature and language studies offered by the New Academy of Irish and Celtic Studies. Many of these classes and programs are discounted with the purchase of an annual membership. This unique setting is also available to reserve for weddings and special events.
Located on the southern side of Margaret T. Hance Park on Central Avenue, the center is easily accessible by light rail, bus or car. For more information, call 602-258-0109 or visit the ICC website at www.azirish.org. It’s a gem!