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National Irish American Museum has fundraising on its St. Patrick's Day agenda

March 17, 2011 |  6:30 am

GeorgiaOKeeffeToddWebb Here’s a sign of the economic times: An Irish American group is using Thursday’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration to promote their dream of establishing a national Irish American Museum in Washington, D.C., but they say they’re not looking for federal recognition or funds –- at least not for the foreseeable future.

Instead of a lobbying effort, they're focusing on cultivating private donors, hoping that this 250th anniversary of St. Patrick's Day in America will elicit not just the wearing, but the giving of the green.

The Connecticut-based nonprofit group of Irish Americans joins African Americans and Latino Americans among groups bidding to establish a national museum in the capital, devoted to their culture and history in the United States.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture already is established under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution, but its exhibitions are currently guests at the National Museum of American History, pending the accumulation of $500 million (half from the federal budget, half privately raised) needed to build a planned home on the National Mall intended to open in 2015.

The National Museum of the American Latino has gotten only to first base, with an official commission established to study the feasibility of another federally funded museum on the mall and report its findings to Congress.



The Irish say this is no time to test their luck with the government.

EugeneONeill1944GeorgeKarger “We understand money isn’t going to be as readily available as it used to be,” said museum spokeswoman Fiona Canning, late of County Kildare. So private donations it'll be – “$5 here or there can get the ball rolling,” she said, toward acquiring land “as close to the mall as possible” and amassing funds for construction and acquiring artifacts for the collection.

The museum group says that some 37 million Americans claim Irish descent. Among the luminaries it lists on its website are some one would expect -– playwright Eugene O’Neill (pictured left), painter Georgia O’Keeffe (pictured above), John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Conan O’Brien. Others, such as Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Springsteen and John Travolta, are not as immediately  identified with the old sod.

Of course, on St. Patrick’s Day, everybody who wants to be Irish is Irish.

The museum’s agenda reflects one proudly and distinctly American trait –- the yearning for inclusiveness and inter-group comity that’s often beyond the grasp of the countries from which hyphenated-American families emigrated. The museum’s founding charter calls for the inclusion of the Scots-Irish  descendants of Protestants whom the British recruited in the 1600s and 1700s to settle northern Irish lands that had been confiscated from Irish Catholics, setting the stage for the religious divisions that continue there to the present day.

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 -- Mike Boehm

Photos: Georgia O'Keeffe cooking stew at her New Mexico home in 1961; Eugene O'Neill at a 1944 rehearsal of "The Iceman Cometh." Credits: Todd Webb/Courtesy of the estate of Todd and Lucille Webb, Portland, Maine (O'Keeffe); George Karger (O'Neill)

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