The lush green landscape of Ireland is more than 4,000 miles from Oklahoma, but, to members of the Irish American Club of Tulsa, it’s right outside their doors.
The club, founded in 1977, celebrates everything about Ireland, like food, drink, music and games, and even more so around St. Patrick’s Day.
“The main thing we try to do is pass along Irish heritage and promote different things in the community that are Celtic-related,” club president Rick Van Auken says. “We have monthly gatherings, like potlucks and bowling nights. We usually have a band and 90% of the time it’s Irish music. We just gather to celebrate what Ireland is all about.”
Oklahoma overflows with people claiming ancestry from the Emerald Isle.
“Oklahoma has a long history of Irish heritage,” Van Auken says. “Some came over for the land runs or for the oil fields and the railroads.”
When Ireland was in need in the 19th century, Native people in what became Oklahoma helped out.
“In the 1840s, Ireland had famine and over a million people starved to death,” Van Auken says. “The Choctaw Nation took up a collection to help. There is a strong connection between the Choctaw and the Irish.”
Choctaws collected $170 in 1847 (an extraordinary amount then) and sent it to the Memphis Irish Relief Committee for disbursement, according to a March 2018 article in Smithsonian magazine.
Van Auken’s genealogy is solidly Irish and he has visited Eire.
“I like the openness and friendliness of it,” Van Auken says. “It’s a very warm, accepting culture. I’ve yet to meet any one of our members of Irish heritage who doesn’t enjoy talking about the stories they’ve had passed down to them.”
George Kennedy, a longtime member of the club, prepares corn beef and cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day and re-creates a traditional Irish pub for private use by friends and family at his business. Kennedy’s family emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the 19th century before making their way to the United States.
“Being involved in the club has been a great experience,” he says. “The Irish culture and music and the dance and the sense of humor the people have are fun. We actually have some people in the club who are from Ireland. It’s been enlightening for me to talk and visit with them.”
For Kennedy, crack is the best part of being Irish. Crack, or craic, isn’t a structural flaw, a drug or a body part; it simply means good conversation and fun.
“Members will bring whatever instruments they have and play Irish music,” Kennedy says. “A lot of nights, it’s kind of a free for all and there’s not a lot of structure. We also have a hurling club and we always have St. Patrick’s Day dinners. We have an Irish night out at the ballpark.
“It’s always a fun, freewheeling atmosphere at those get-togethers.”