When the grand-opening gala for the Irish Cultural Center's new research library takes place on Saturday, one of the happiest persons in attendance is likely to be Norman McCleland, and not because the structure is adorned with his name.
According to the 85-year-old, who serves as the CEO of Shamrock Foods, tomorrow night's Anam Cara Gala and unveiling of the $3.5 million McCleland Irish Library -- which contains more than 6,000 works relating to Celtic genealogy and culture -- is the culmination of half a decade of "diligent work."
"I've been fully engaged for this last five-year period with making the library a reality," he says. "I was the person that worked on behalf of the Irish community with the City of Phoenix to get permission to build this, to get everything in compliance with all the things that they required, and to lead the fundraising efforts behind the scenes."
It was time well spent, McCleland added, creating the only Irish-oriented library in the western United States.
At Saturday's ritzy grand opening gala - as well as during the library's free public opening on Tuesday, October 2 - Valley residents will finally get a chance to peruse the voluminous amount of the Irish-oriented material contained within the three-story structure.
McCleland says its purpose of the library -- which took approximately 18 months to construct -- is twofold: Helping folks of Celtic heritage and descent research their family's ancestry while simultaneously being an epicenter of Irish culture.
As such, the library will not only house a wealth of books, records, photographs, and other historical material, it will also feature numerous tomes devoted to traditional Irish music and dance, as well as works by such legendary Emerald Isle scribes as Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, and C.S. Lewis.
"That's what I'm hoping for, that the library will accomplish those two things," McCleland says. "First of all, the genealogy, and secondly the opportunity to share some of this information about all these artists and people that has been a part of the whole movement of Irish to America. We have all these works by George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and hundreds of others."
The library will also host a variety of Irish-oriented events, such as movie screenings, showcases of traditional art, traveling museum exhibitions, live music, and dance performances, he says.
Classes and workshops will be held throughout each month devoted to music and dance. The upper floors of the library also contain several soundproof practice rooms and studios where various traditional Irish music classes will take place, offering instruction with such instruments as the bagpipes or the pennywhistle.
"Those rooms are completely soundproof, so you could have eight or ten students learning how to play the bagpipes next door to somebody singing," he says.
Meanwhile, the library's first floor will feature a research room where visitors can pore through such historical records as birth certificates, obituaries, and marriage licenses in order to piece together their kin's ancestry. Visitors can also seek the assistance of Daniela Moneta, the Irish Cultural Center's resident genealogy librarian.
McCleland, whose parents came to Arizona in 1912 from Ireland, knows how difficult researching one's roots can be, as he spent more than 20 years trying to dig up his family's past. Its one of the reasons why he wanted to create the library.
"I found it was difficult within just my family to learn where we came from," he says. "I ended up writing the four histories of my grandparents. And those books led me to understand what kind of people were part of my family and I was really impressed with the way they looked at life and their faith and values. So I thought, here's a great opportunity for all Irish folks out here to do the same."
The McClelland Irish Library's Anam Cara grand opening gala takes place at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is $100 for Irish Cultural Center members, $150 for non-members. The library will also hold a free celebration and public tours from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, October 3.
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