|Chicago Irish Authors Pay Tribute to Safe
By Kia Namin
In 1985, the Irish American Heritage Center on Chicago’s northwest side
became a "home" for Irish Americans. Since then, it has become a major
"snug" for Irish music, Irish dance, Irish language, and most importantly,
Irish-American camaraderie. Twenty-five years later, two grateful authors
have composed a heartfelt pictorial thank you" to their favorite Gaelic
Early in July, Arcadia Publishing released another book in its Images
of America Series, the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago.
book displays more than 200 vintage photographs of the center through its
years. All have been captioned by Chicago writers Monica Dougherty and
Mary Beth Sammons.
Monica Dougherty, an artist, author, and art therapist, has worked for
numerous editorial outlets, ranging from NBC-TV, for the NFL on Super Bowl
XIII, and the Goodman Theater in the Windy City. Dougherty launched her
professional career working children at Children's Memorial Hospital in
Chicago as a secretary in the Department of Child Psychiatry.
Mary Beth Sammons is an award-winning journalist, author and a cause-
related marketing specialist. Her work regularly appears in The Chicago
Tribune and on AOL Health. Her awards include first place from
United Press International for best spot news coverage and a 2010 "Living
Now" Book Award by the Independent Publishers Association for her book,
Life as a Thank You.
If their professional lives were not enough to start work on this book,
their Irish was. Coincidentally, both Dougherty and Sammons have close
ancestors from Co. Mayo.
"My mother's people came from Newport, Co. Mayo, which is on the west
coast of Ireland and also from Cork in the south and Antrim in the north.
My father's mother's family was from Co. Down, also in the north," said
Sammons grew up with fresh-off-the-boat Irish in her home. "My immigrant
Irish ancestors were very much a part of my childhood. My uncle Mickey
Crowley was the oldest of 12 kids and my grandma, Bridget McMahon, his
sister, was youngest. She lived with our family, so all things Irish were
intricately woven into the fabric of our daily existence. They were from
a tiny town called Ballina, which is located on the west side of Mayo."
Both Dougherty and Sammons still frequent the Irish American Heritage
Center with their families.
"I've been a member of the center since the early 1990s," Dougherty
said proudly. "I was program coordinator for the Irish Education Program,
a Saturday morning school of Irish education, including art, from 2000
through 2001. I continued on to volunteer in the program for various art
classes and have also volunteered at many other events throughout the years."
The women are also the co-directors of the Story Telling project at
the IAHC. Sammons, a volunteer for the Anniversary Committee, maintained
an inherited relationship with center that so many of the members do.
"I must say I have been a regular social participant, attending the
fest religiously and other concerts and social activities. After my father
passed a couple years ago, I felt a pull to try to help the center with
its mission to continue the legacy. The center was so vital to both my
parents," she confided.
The book's concept emerged from Mary Beth's work on the 25th and 35th
Anniversary Committee that would tell the story of The Center.
" 'The story' was buried in dozens if not hundreds of boxes in the
archives, so our committee went once a week to the attic to pour through
the photos," recounts Mary Beth.
During this same time, Monica was busy at the center working out the
plans for a video story telling project with the Executive Director at
The Center, Tim McDonnell. Bob McNamara, the Board President, suggested
the two meet to discuss The Center's "story."
"As Mary Beth and I began talking, our ideas seemed to converge and
a book plan started to emerge," explained Dougherty.
Sammons recalled the firecracker of a process from concept to print,
"It] suddenly became a book. We completed it all start to finish in less
than six months."
The authors commented on the characteristically Irish strong-will and
commitment they uncovered in their interviews with older members.
"I have been very moved and touched by the heartfelt authenticity of
the volunteers and founders that have been dedicated to this dream for
35 years. Their passion, commitment, dedication and determination to create
this lasting legacy for Irish families, astonishes me," admitted Sammons.
She continued, "The volunteers] are so genuine, real and down to earth.
They’ve shown up every Saturday for 25 years, and still do, with no fanfare.
But they roll up their sleeves to do hard work."
Monica insisted the IAHC was always more than just a clubhouse.
"The center provided a home away from home where immigrants could meet
people in similar situations, enjoy the events and also network to create
a life here. Many met their spouses in this way. I think that's where the
commitment and dedication of the many volunteers comes from and it is what
turned an old, abandoned school building into the beautiful and thriving
cultural center that it is today.
The center is talismanic representing Irish tradition. As Sammons explained,
"My parents taught me that the Irish have the moxie and guts to always
try challenges, to appreciate the good luck that appears through hard work…
That is the tradition."
The Irish American Heritage Center, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing.
Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing