Irish Clubs: The Early Years

  • By John Keane
  • Posted 1/01/1998
  • Essay 2209
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When the nieces of Bridget Aylward arrived in Seattle, there was already a fledgling Irish club here, then called the American Association for Recognition of the Irish Republic. (Bridget Aylward retired to Seattle after traveling to the Klondike in the late 1890s as cook for an expedition led by a Captain Healy and later ended up mining for gold on her own. After settling in Seattle, she was named Queen of Alaska at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909.) The club met regularly for Irish dances and picnics. Although membership waned in the 1930s and 1940s when the Irish Free State achieved worldwide recognition, there was always an annual Irish picnic. Members took the ferry across Lake Washington to Fortuna Park, and the picnic always included a game of Irish football.

This group was the only active Irish club in Seattle until 1941, when another Irish organization was started called The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. This national organization was originally established before the Revolutionary War and had George Washington as an honorary member.

In the 1980s, in response to threats from the "angry daughters of St. Brigid," the all-male Friendly Sons modernized, welcomed women as members and changed its name to the Friends of St. Patrick. Still going strong, they hold an annual black-tie affair that mainly attracts members of Seattle's professional community. They annual banquet raises money for charity, funds an annual scholarship to a deserving Irish-American student at Seattle University and they also support the Seattle Galway Sister City Association.

After World War II, there was another Irish influx. These were mostly young and single people who came to the Northwest because they had relatives here. In addition, many priests and nuns were brought to Seattle from Ireland by the local Catholic Church to compensate for shortages here. Encouraged by several of those priests, the newly arrived Irish organized the Gaelic Club in 1952, which later in 1958 became the Irish-American Club.

While membership was open to everyone, the Club President was required to be Irish-born. This club was very active, organizing monthly meetings, dances, and Gaelic football games; they also sponsored Communion Breakfasts and regular visits to old folks homes. The monthly Sunday night meetings traditionally ended with a CEILI, an informal party involving music, singing, and dancing.


John Keane was President of the Irish Heritage Society.

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