The Okanagan Irish Society Preserving and sharing Irish culture in the Okanagan

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17 annually, and every year people dress up in green and come together to join in this celebration associated with music, dancing and food. But for the Irish community in British Columbia’s Okanagan region, the celebration is much more than a mere party. It is tradition.

“[It was] to remember St. Patrick. He brought Christianity to Ireland. Sure there were other missionaries, but he gets all the credit,” says Vincent Sherry, president of the Okanagan Irish Society (OIS).

For Sherry and other members of the OIS, it’s important to have a dedicated way to preserve and celebrate Irish culture, fostering the events and community-building necessary to do just that.

The Okanagan Irish Society promotes Irish culture and community through special events and casual gatherings alike. | Photo courtesy of Okanagan Irish Society.

For Sherry, St. Patrick’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to reminisce and celebrate Irish heritage.

“Born in Ireland, my history of the day, was that it is a day off, a national holiday, where, as a child, we would go to Church, buy our shamrock, – it was a three-leaf shamrock not a four-leaf clover – and go downtown to see the parade,” recalls Sherry. “There would be parades all around Ireland, but the big one was in Dublin.”

Sherry says that this was often followed by a visit to the pub with his parents for a meal. He adds that while the adults often returned to the pub after, the focus was on the holiday and its meaning, not getting drunk.

It is no surprise that the OIS is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to celebrating the death anniversary of the patron saint of Ireland. The celebration, complete with music, dance and a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, revive cultural emotions within the Irish community in the region.

In fact, the OIS has been promoting and preserving Irish culture, music, sport and language in the Okanagan region for the past 40 years. The organization has also extended charity to those in need, a tradition that has been a part of the OIS since the beginning.

“The Okanagan Irish Society concept began when a priest, Fr. Charles Mulvihill, and a parishioner, Ethna Tutt, Irish born, both agreed to come together, with the number of Irish people [they each knew] and come together to support one another back in 1982/1983, ” says Sherry.

Since then, the society has organized various social events including coffees, lunches, Christmas festivities and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with the aim of bringing its 100+ members together.

“We have ongoing monthly seniors’ coffee mornings where we visit different locations in Kelowna and eight to 14 people come out. And once per quarter, we host a senior’s lunch in various locations. COVID really did a number on us. Last Thursday, we held a Trivia Pub Night with about 14 people, enough for two teams and we’ll try to do that every month,” Sherry says.

Bringing Irish culture to everyone

The Okanagan Irish Society also participates in multicultural activities and contributes to diversity, equity and inclusion by sharing information and education where people can learn about each other’s culture and history. Sherry notes such cultural sharing at the recent One World Festival.

“There were over 35 countries representing food, music, dance and showing off their people and culture. The Irish are very welcoming. We were giving out trinkets and talking to people in Gaelic, educating them on our history, culture, and we’re always willing to sit and have a chat with others, ” he says.

Sherry adds that he is proud that the OIS is one of only two Irish societies in British Columbia. And for all the importance of tradition and cultural spotlighting that the society brings to its members, it’s also a great opportunity to get together and have a great time.

“Any excuse to get together for good craic – to make fun of one another. It is comforting to be around like-minded people who understand our wit and humour, good fun, good times, a brilliant night to share stories and sing, but it doesn’t have to be a large group, two people can come together to have great craic, ” says Sherry.

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