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Irish Cultural Center opens $5 million library in Phoenix

It was a lucky day for the Irish community when the McClelland Irish Library finally opened Oct. 2 at 1106 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix.

But some may not know just how lucky they are.

“I don’t think Phoenicians realize what they have here,” said Maureen Sullivan, 67, who recently moved from Connecticut to Gold Canyon and was helping with the opening. Ms. Sullivan arranged Irish soda bread on a tray as people wandered past Irish dancers into the 15,000 square foot building.

“There really isn’t anything like it.”

Indeed the castle-like building, modeled after a 12th century Norman castle, is an impressive stone structure in Phoenix’s downtown area and the only one of its kind in the west.

The three-story, $5 million building was designed by architect Paul Ahern and compliments the other two buildings he designed on the Irish Cultural Center campus. The entry arches were created with 22 tons of authentic Irish limestone cut and carved by a master Irish stonemason.

Beyond the heavy wood doors are these welcoming words of W.B. Yeats on a wall, “Education is not the filling of the pail but the lighting of a fire.”

The shelves of the library’s first floor are filled with 6,000 books, including the works of all of the famous Irish writers including James Joyce and C.S. Lewis, a favorite author of library founder Norman McClelland, chairman of Shamrock Foods, who, together with other members of the Irish community and the Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation negotiated an unique public-private partnership with the city of Phoenix.

The city provided the land and the Phoenix Public Library will offer services to the McClelland Library. The nonprofit will operate the library.

“I have a great sense of joy and peace,” said Mr. McClelland, of the library’s opening. “Now we can reach out and invite people in to showcase the books and provide an opportunity to search out family histories.”

More than 100 curious members of the community were treated to tea, Irish soda bread, scones and more before checking out the books and an exhibit of the book of Kells, a treasured manuscript of the New Testament Gospels.

Many continued on to the genealogy center, a highlight of the library located on the second floor. Beautiful hard wood floors and ceilings created a warm feeling in the library, which features a room for rare books complete with a fireplace.

Danela Moneta, a certified genealogist, was on hand to help visitors start to search out their family history.

“I begin by interviewing people and from there I use my experience to help them search without getting off track,” she said.

The library will showcase traveling exhibits, Irish newspapers and magazines and cherished Irish literature for the more than 500,000 in Arizona who claim Irish roots. But library officials hope people from all backgrounds will come and explore a bit of Irish culture.

“America is a melting pot,” said Mary Moriarty, operations manager for the Irish Cultural Center. “I think it is important that we know and embrace all cultures that came together to make up this country.”

Editor’s note: Dolores Tropiano may be reached at


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