Dear UICC Member,

“You never miss the water till the well runs dry”

There is no doubt that the last few weeks have been one of the most unpredictable and surreal times of our lives. Nobody could have predicted the broad scale impact that the coronavirus could yield on our daily lives since it became clear during the second week of March that the this was no ordinary ‘passing’ epidemiological issue. Our whole lives and our family’s lives have been changed forever-schools, work places, churches, our favorite restaurants, and the Irish Center itself has closed until at least April 7th to comply with stay-at-home orders issued by public health authorities to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The Irish saying “You never miss the water till the well runs dry” is what springs to mind now as we are closed off from many of the things we have taken for granted in today’s society. We can only long for the day when we can return to our “normal” unrestricted lives, where everything will once again be open for business, without restrictions of contact and interaction.

There is no doubt that this past March, the most Irish of all the months of the year, will not be forgotten anytime soon as we deal with the new normal in our lives under house arrest and social isolation from others.

Here is how it played out behind the scenes at the Irish Center. On the afternoon of March 6th, news filtered through from the United Irish Societies (UIS) that the 169th St. Patrick’s Day parade planned for Saturday March 14th was postponed. The SF Dept. of Public Health was concerned that large gatherings of people were having a direct relationship on the rampant spread of the coronavirus elsewhere in the world. I thought to myself how could this be? I was at the flag raising earlier in the day and there seemed to be no indication that the parade was in jeopardy. But as we have found out since then-things do change and very quickly at times; sometimes on an hourly basis as more information is made available.

Upon receiving the news that the parade was nixed for March 14th, I arranged for an emergency meeting of the Board for Sunday March 8th, at the Center to discuss our approach to keeping the flag flying over the following weekend. We had detailed plans to execute for the St. Patrick’s weekend festivities which had been developed by Co-Chairpersons Mark Burke and Josephine Brogan during the previous two months. As I prepared for the meeting, over the weekend the Warriors basketball organization were very public and steadfast in their stance to continue to hold games at their new 20,000 seat arena and I felt we could continue with our own plans, in what is a much smaller facility.

Revenue from our St. Patrick’s weekend is always critical from an operations stand point, and the annual “lift” in revenue would help us through the next several months.

At the end of the Sunday Board meeting, the board unanimously agreed we should move ahead with our plans. Liam Frost, President of the UIS, joined us at the conclusion of our meeting to inform us that the parade was “postponed” until a yet to be announced date in the future this year. Liam applauded our efforts to keep going with the Irish Center plans to save the weekend for the Irish-American community.

However, within 48 hours of our meeting to keep moving forward, it became very clear there was a very different sentiment in the community and the country about what was unfolding in places like Washington State, and elsewhere in the US, as well as the impact of the virus in northern Italy. Communication between the Center and City Hall indicated that crowds of less than 1,000 people gathering for any public event in the foreseeable future was in jeopardy, and the maximum allowable number allowed to congregate together would come down in the days ahead. It was with a heavy heart, the Board decided that the Center would pull the plug on all of its planned events from Friday March 13th through Tuesday March 17th. Within hours the inevitable order came from City Hall. We were done.

We then immediately had to go into shut down mode and cancel all our orders for pre-ordered catered food (both Guerra’s To-Go and Ron Dumont were gracious in understanding our situation-and to both we are eternally grateful and thank you for all they did behind the scenes). Our support staff for the weekend, volunteers, janitors, musicians were all given the same disappointing news. Our biggest attraction for the weekend-Sharon Shannon who had spent the week leading up to St. Patrick’s weekend playing across Canada, was told that we were shut down as she made her way towards Vancouver.

Events following the St. Patrick’s weekend came tumbling down; our first Irish dance Feis in twenty years (March 21-22), was postponed. So too was “The Curse of Button Accordion” play by Sharon Mannion for April 11th. The Aoife Scott music performance on April 12th was also canceled. It has been a devastating month for our cultural programming which has been very strong after a very successful 2019.

Now that the center is temporarily closed, the Board has made the hard but financially responsible decision to eliminate some staff positions and reduce staff hours overall. With only a skeletal crew working, we have also reduced other utility costs like garbage and recycling collection, cable and internet services.

While it’s impossible to provide a timeline for the re-opening of the Center, the 45th Year anniversary celebration has been postponed. We do not have a new date at this time. One thing is for sure, is that when we re-open, we hope to have a Grand Re-Opening! Some positive news with regard to Events that still remain on the calendar (as of today) are the Leo Walsh Scholarship disbursement evening of Thursday May 7th and the week long summer camp from June 8-12th.

On a good side note, many of our members purchased a bottle of olive oil, donated by the McDonough family as part of the Library Fundraiser back in December and we are delighted to share that Kathleen and Kevin McDonough & Family were recently awarded a Gold Medal Ribbon for their 2019 batch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the 12th Annual California Olive Oil Council (COOC) Awards recently.

Finally, as a result of this world crisis, the challenges we face as a non-profit agency are greater than ever. Please consider donating and/or renewing your membership, as we need your support! We are deeply grateful to our donors, volunteers, and community partners – you make our work possible. Thank you for your partnership and support.

If you have to go out, please stay safe with shelter in place and healthy with social distancing.

Anne Cassidy Carew, President

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The United Irish Cultural Center of San Francisco, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in the City and County of San Francisco. Your dues and donations are now tax deductible. Please consult a tax attorney.

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