For the last four years, Celts in and around Pottsville, Pennsylvania (pop: 14, 324) have been gathering each Spring in an effort to re-open St. Kieran’s Parish, located in the historic Irish Valley of the state’s anthracite coal region. St. Kieran’s Church was closed in July, 2008. Catherine C. Clifford, President of the Friends of St. Kieran’s, spoke with us about today’s Heritage Day in the Valley event, which takes place from 11am-6pm at the Clover Fire Company of Heckscherville Grounds.
What is the event’s core mandate?
A non-profit corporation, Friends of St. Kieran’s, has been formed for the purpose of acquiring and preserving St. Kieran’s church and grounds for historic preservation and cultural purposes because of its unique religious and ethnic history. Heritage Day in the Valley celebrates our history and culture in addition to being a fund-raising event. St. Kieran’s Church was built not only with the financial donations of the parishioners but by the physical labor of the Irish miners after they worked their shift in the mines. The majority of the residents of the parish at that time were either born in Ireland or of Irish descent. A large number of the immigrants who settled the valley were natives of Kilkenny and the surrounding area. Few other places in the Anthracite Coal Fields so clearly and directly demonstrate the values, struggles and accomplishments of Irish Immigrants, fleeing the Great Hunger from 1843 to 1855, who came to the United States to build a new life, find work, and, of course, to freely and proudly practice their Roman Catholic faith.
How has it grown over the years?
This will be the fourth Heritage Day. Each year has seen additional offerings. Attendance is affected y the weather but has shown a slight increase each year that Mother Nature cooperated-
Who attends the gathering?
Local and past residents of the Valley, descendants of the immigrants who settled the area, visitors from out of County and out of State interested in Irish culture, members of County AOH Divisions and visiting AOH members.
What can they expect to experience this year?
A march from the Clover Fire Company grounds to St. Kieran’s cemetery with the Cass Township Ancient Order of Hibernians and visiting Hibernians, led by a bagpiper, for a short ceremony honoring their deceased members. To date, 36 markers of AOH members have been found. Families and individuals who wish to honor their deceased buried in St. Kieran’s cemetery are invited to take part. Each will be provided with a sign bearing their family name when they register. The family name will be announced at the cemetery and the family invited to proceed to the grave. Families are welcome to place a flag or flower on the grave. Registration for the Walk will begin at 10:30 am and the Walk from Clover Fire Company to St. Kieran’s cemetery will begin at 11:00 am. There is no fee to walk but all are asked to register at Clover Fire Company before the Walk. If you are unable to walk, you are welcome to sponsor a walker-perhaps in memory of a loved one. Sponsorships and donations may be forwarded to Friends of St. Kieran’s, 18 Spruce Street, Ashland, PA 17921, or turned in at the registration table before the Walk. After the cemetery program, return to Clover Fire Company for a day of fun, food and fellowship including music and dance, homemade foods and baked goods, genealogy, history, games, and more! Entertainment will be provided by The Troubles at Noon; McCormick School of Irish Dance at 1:00; and The Irish Lads at 3:00 pm. If raining, entertainment will take place inside. County Historical Societies and other non-profit groups have been invited to participate. Tom Dempsey, Genealogist, will answer your family history questions. Rosalie Rowan-Kuzma will present a lecture and exhibit “Taking The Boat-an Irish Emigrant’s Story” at 2:00 pm at the Girardville Historical Society exhibit site. She tells the story of her great-grandfather, Patrick Rowan, of Doolough, Barony of Erris, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Learn of his emigration, his struggles and accomplishments, his misfortunes and tragedies, his life as lived on both sides of the Atlantic. Information will also be available on Rowan and Leonard genealogies. Space will be provided free of charge to those interested in sharing their family memories, pictures and family tree or helping others to find their roots. Participants must pre—register and are responsible to provide their own table, chairs and canopies. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.
Why is it an important event for the Celtic community there?
This event is helping to ensure the passing down to future generations the history and genealogy of the area. It is the only event of its kind in the area.
Why is it an important event for the non-Celtic community there?
We are sharing our music, dance, foods, and history with the other nationalities of the area.
What are the plans for the event in the years ahead?
We hope to expand the event to include additional opportunities to learn more of our history and culture and to share this knowledge with others.