60 The Irish Society of Vancouver / Saint Patrick’s Parish Vancouver.

The Irish Society of Vancouver

Born in 1918 in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary John Joseph Grant left Kilkenny and arrived in Vancouver in 1947.  The following year he was introduced to his future wife Ida (nee Stradiotto) by Jim Brennan at a bowling alley. On June 15, 1949, the two married in Saint Joseph’s Church in Powell River, B.C. The Grants lived near Saint Patrick’s until 1964.

Saint Patrick’s was the base for the “Vancouver Irish Society” and for the many Irish cultural events that were organized by the likes of Johnny Grant and Jim Brennan. The Club invited “all Irish people and those of Irish descent to join their ranks of a truly representative Irish Society”. A non-sectarian organization, it had as its aims to promote Irish culture, establish an Irish Centre and to establish and operate, when feasible, a Membership Sickness and Death benefit fund.

Some of the parishioners who contributed to the club included Mike McCarthy, Ed O’Reilly, Patrick J. Herbert, Thomas O’Reilly, Patrick & Monica Dunne, Movana McNaughton, F.B.J. (Mike) Whelan, Hugh McIlvenna, Ed & Ann Butler, Seamus Egan, Francis Hurley, Mike O’Reilly, Erin O’Daly, Pat Dineen, Father Thomas Reidy, John Boal, Jean Kowey, Bill Meaney, Pat & Brenda Warren, Tommy Phillips, E. McDonagh, B.O’Neill, B. McCall and Sue & Mike Hennessey.  Other well-known club supporters included Mr. & Mrs. W.J. Phelan, Art & Flora O’Neill, Paddy White, and the Clarke, Tonner and Kelly families.

In the 1950’s the Society met on the first Thursday of each month at the Cambrian Hall at 17th & Main, Stry Hall (125 East 8th St.) and at the Legion Hall (856 Seymour St.) Memberships were $3 a year.

On April 25, 1951, a banquet was given in honour of His Excellency Sean Murphy the Republic of Ireland Ambassador to Canada at the Hotel Georgia which future Saint Patrick’s Pastor Father John Teague was in attendance as a young man.

Dr. R. J. Hanna and the Irish Society produced a March 19, 1957 souvenir programme of their Saint Patrick’s Day Concert at the Georgia Auditorium. Dr. Hanna’s wanted a top-notch Irish performance. Limerick Tenor Thomas O’Brien (The Original “Singing Cop” from New York), M.C. Joey Rardin, Dublin Actor Milo O’Shea, Irish Dancer Madeline O’Reilly from Belfast and Canadian singer Yvonne O’Sullivan were some of top names.

Written greetings from T. J. Kiernan, Ambassador of Ireland to Canada and the Mayor of Vancouver, F.J. Hume front the programme along with an ad by St. Patrick’s parishioner Frank J. Kearney of Kearney Funeral Directors. President Johnny Grant’s message to patrons stated “Thanks are due to the loyalty and efforts of the Irish Society which down through the years has kept alive that spirit of Gaelic culture for which our Island Home has been rightly called ‘The Island of Saints and Scholars’ and it is on their loyalty that we depend to perpetuate our glorious Irish traditions”.

A novel item in the souvenir programme was a map of Ireland with the names of St. Patrick’s families pointing towards their county of birth. Some names of note are Mr. & Mrs. O’Toole of Galway, Mrs. Elizabeth Comey of Meath, the McNaughtons of Antrim and Ignatius Foley of Limerick.

In September 1957, newly arrived Monica Dunne was asked to dance the Hornpipe at the St. Patrick’s Day Concert in 1958. She received much encouragement from Father Tom Reidy to begin an Irish dancing school and, because of his support and the Society, teaching took place in her home basement and at St. Patricks.

A 1959 Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at the Thunderbird Room at 2655 Main Street had the O’Toole, Grant, Butler and Dunne children with the Monica Dunne School of Traditional Step dancing. Moreover, the Erin O’Daly Academy of Irish Traditional Dancing had the Kowey, Belanger, Meaney and Coll children dancing. Soprano Sue Hennessy and Tenor Frank McPhail graced the programme along with the Little Flower Academy Singers and the Vancouver Post Office Musical Group.

Erin O’Daly, in 1962 hired newly arrived parishioner Violet Moore to assist in teaching at her school. The following year saw Violet begin her own school with 12 students and the rest is history with the Moore School being a mainstay for well over 45 years.

In 1965, the first BC Open Irish Dancing Championships were held with Saint Patrick’s Peggy O’Toole winning the Monica Dunne Perpetual Trophy, and Maureen Grant winning the Father Reidy Perpetual Trophy. A Feis Rinnce (Dance Festival) and a BC Open were held at Saint Patrick’s Monsignor Forget Auditorium in 1970 and ‘72 under the direction of Peggy McKenna.

There was a general winding down of organized activities and sponsorship by the Society with no further activity of note after 1973.  The final act of the Society by John Grant, Movana McNaughton and Ed & Anne Butler was the closing of the bank account in 2000.  Over $3,000.00 went to the construction of the new Saint Patrick’s Church to honour the memory of the Society, its members and the Irish priests who served the community. Today the Vancouver Irish Society name is included on the list of major contributors at the back of the church.

John Grant passed away May 3, 2002 but his memory and the memory of all former Irish parishioners will continue to live on as we remember them in this the Centenary year of our beloved Saint Patrick’s.

See also www.stpatrickscatholicchurch.ca

The Monument Society is very grateful to Mr. John O’Flynn, former Parishioner at St Patrick’s Parish Vancouver for providing the above article.