Culture club

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive


Shamrock Club President Pat Graham greets me with the traditional Irish cheer as we clink our pints of Guinness together. I'm in the wood-paneled basement pub at the club's South Side headquarters, preparing to interview Graham, along with past presidents Mark Dempsey and Tom Byrne, about the social club's history and purpose.

But first, Graham suggests we loosen up with a game of darts and a round of beers. The man knows how to make a guest feel at home, which leads me to believe he's serious when he says his organization welcomes all comers with open arms.

We take a seat at a round table and begin at the beginning.

The Shamrock Club of Columbus started in 1936 as an Irish Catholic men's club. Their task? Hosting a procession to mass on St. Patrick's Day to venerate Ireland's best-known patron saint.

Since then, the club has been devoted to overseeing the city's official St. Patty's celebrations and celebrating Irish culture - "The real stuff, not the plastic stuff," Graham says.

Although its goals are the same as ever, over the years the club has become much more inclusive. Today, it's a family organization of more than 2,500 members open to men and women of any age, race or religion.

"As long as you appreciate what we're doing as an Irish organization, you're welcome," Graham says.

That's not just talk. They recently elected their first female secretary, Molly Byrne, who is on track to assume the presidency in two years, and anyone with a genuine interest in Irish culture in encouraged to apply for membership.

"We're an Irish organization," Graham says. "We're not trying to be [Irish] one day out of the year by pouring green beer."

They also don't get hammered all the time - especially on St. Patty's Day, an occasion that much of the public sees as an excuse for heavy drinking. That's one of the biggest misconceptions the Shamrock Club encounters, Dempsey says, but he insists it's really more of a family organization. The club's vast slate of activities bears him out.

On Tuesday, Graham and company will oversee the annual procession to mass, the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Irish Family Reunion at Veterans Memorial, before returning to headquarters for more bands, pipers and step dancing.

But just as the club has expanded its membership, it has become active year-round and expanded its role in the community.

Among the first additions to the annual agenda was a family picnic each summer. For the presidents huddled around a table with me, it's almost as grand a tradition as the St. Patty's Day events. "When I was a kid, it was the biggest thing going," Byrne says.

In addition, every year the club hosts a golf tournament, a music festival and a corn roast. They celebrate "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" every September. They give out scholarships and athletic awards and sponsor charity events like the food drive that continues through Sunday. On a more casual note, they host weekly leagues for darts, horseshoes, cornhole and euchre.

This week, of course, is the Shamrock Club's biggest of the year. The club has a jam-packed schedule beginning with Friday's Proclamation Day and continuing up through Tuesday's St. Paddy's events.

The presidents eagerly welcome me back for the weekend's events as they see me to the door. Bids me adieu with another traditional saying: "Safehome."