The Irish American Cultural Institute Papers

One of the most recent additions to the Celtic Collection are the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI) papers, which tell the history of an organization that can be considered a precursor to the Irish Studies program. The organization was founded in 1964, and was started in St. Paul by St. Thomas professor, Dr. Eoin (John) McKiernan. The organization, which has since moved to New Jersey, has a long history of connection to St. Thomas; Professor James Silas Rogers was the director of the Institute before it moved from St. Paul.

The IACI is an organization devoted to bringing awareness of Irish culture to America. At the time of its founding, American culture was considered “not yet distinctively shaped and fixed.” According to one document from the collections, “it [American culture] is still in a plastic, formative stage. Hense the nation’s appetite for music, foods, dress, architecture, art, etc. from the four corners of the earth…American, in other words, is treating world cultures as a cafeteria in which she takes what looks good and useful.” The point of the IACI was to ensure that Irish culture would be on that cafeteria menu; in fact, the organization considered it their duty “to make available for her consideration the best in Irish traditions.”

The IACI was (and continues to be) responsible for various kinds of Irish American cultural events.  This included a television program called the Irish Diary; the archives now hold hundreds of fan letters and questions for Dr. McKiernan. The organization also established a summer camp for children called the Irish Way. According to their website, “Over the past four decades, the IACI has carved an honored place for the Irish dimension in American life. No comparable body has such an impressive track record of achievement and sustained programming.”

Perhaps one of their biggest contributions to American Culture was the “Irish Fortnight” series, which featured Irish music, theater, and dance alongside lectures on history, art, literature, archeology, and more. This program was hugely successful and chapters of the IACI across the nation had their own “Fortnight” programs. The Celtic Collection holds programs and pamphlets from these events as well as budgets, location plans, and correspondence related to programing and logistics. The Celtic Collection holds all of these fascinating documents—the IACI papers are just one example of the rich, diverse holdings down in the archives that are available to view and study.