This site includes the postings from the Irish Aires email list. This includes a listing of Irish/Celtic events in the Houston area and other information that the Irish Aires radio program posts.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Final Toast To 40-Year Home of Houston's Irish

Matt Meshell, left, Mike Griffin and Jerri Jones joke this week at Knights of Columbus Council 803's old clubhouse, which is expected to be razed for Midtown redevelopment. Dave Rossman: For the Chronicle A Final Toast To 40-Year Home Of City's Irish Knights hall will close after St. Pat's events, but members' eyes still smiling By ALLAN TURNER Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle It's billed as an "Irish Farewell," and today's St. Patrick's Day bash will be the last for Knights of Columbus Council 803's storied old clubhouse. The building, long a gathering spot for the city's Irish, likely will be sold and razed for Midtown redevelopment. But don't expect black crepe or effusions of sorrow. A treasured annual ritual may be ending, but you can bet your last shamrock that spirits will be high. Bagpipes will sound and libations will be poured. And who knows? Maybe a son or daughter of Erin will dance an impromptu jig out of sheer delight. Today's party — the first was held more than 40 years ago — will start at 5 p.m. at the Catholic fraternal group's Louisiana Street headquarters. On Saturday, KC members and friends will return to the clubhouse at noon to board trucks to ride in the 46th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. A second, post-parade party will be at the hall from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday. "This is going to be the last hurrah," said Mike Griffin, an organizer of today's party and chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade Commission. Griffin, former owner of Griff's Inn, a popular Irish-themed bar, said plans call for finding a new home for Council 803, the city's oldest Knights of Columbus unit, in the Midtown area. But he fretted years may pass before the St. Patrick's Day parties are revived. "It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "Unfortunately, we may lose a lot of the members in making the transition." Inclusive party day Griffin became involved in Houston's Irish festivities as a St. Thomas University freshman in the early 1960s. His arrival in the city from Boston coincided with the efforts of two Houston radio personalities to reinvigorate the city's long-dormant St. Patrick's Day parade. On St. Patrick's Day, Griffin said, "everyone is Irish." "It's a fun day," he said. "Everyone is waving at you. Hey, they're glad to be alive. Glad to be in Houston. They're just smiling and happy — heaven knows we need it." Houston's St. Patrick's Day Parade, which will start at 2 p.m. Saturday at Hamilton and Texas and this year will feature about 130 entries, traces its roots to the 1880s. The Knights of Columbus festivities, Griffin said, were a natural outgrowth of holiday conviviality. Parts of what is the Midtown area were an Irish enclave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, noted Pete Little, a former parade grand marshal and host of KPFT-FM's Irish music program. Council 803 moved to 2616 Louisiana in 1937, first occupying a grand old mansion, then, when that building was destroyed by fire in the mid-1960s, erecting today's low- slung white building. The hall has seen jollity, sadness and touching comradeship. When one member's brother was stricken with terminal illness, Council 803 Knights staged a "living wake," at which the ailing man — attending the meeting on a hospital gurney — was lauded by his friends. Money gathered at the session helped defray his hospital expenses. The hall, too, has been touched by quirkiness. Members insist the new building was constructed using the blueprints for a local funeral home. And although its front door now faces Dennis Street, the building still bears the old mansion's Louisiana Street address. Knights of Columbus deputy district director Jerri Jones, who also is past grand knight for Council 803, said that the fraternal group, which raises money for Catholic charities, was the club of choice for the city's early Irish-American leaders. Among them, he said, were the Foley brothers of department store fame. Those past members still are remembered, their photos arranged amid religious icons and names engraved on small brass plaques set in the dark wood of the back-room bar. Shifting demographics Today, the Irish have dispersed throughout the region — Katy is now home to an Irish cultural group — and the old neighborhoods rapidly are filling with newcomers drawn by upscale apartment and condominium development. Membership of Council 803, which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, is aging. And although it claims almost 400 members, about half are honorary and only about 60 regularly attend meetings. Monday night hamburger dinners are among the routine social events. Increasingly, members are Hispanic — one of the headliners for today's entertainment, The Irish Accent Band, will offer a fusion of Irish and Latin music. Jones cited the area's real estate boom as the primary reason the group must find a new home. Though the KC hall has not yet been sold, club officials are optimistic a sale may soon occur. "We've got to find ourselves another home," Jones said. Maybe, he said, Council 803 will find quarters at Midtown's new Sacred Heart Co-cathedral, under construction, or at a small venue on Texas. "Right now," he said, "we're just up in the air."
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