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Raising The Profile Of Irish Heritage In San Antonio

As members of the Harp and Shamrock Society of Texas began preparations for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, including a Saturday "Hooley," President Kevin Dowd reflected on the tradition.

"The Irish will fight to the death for what they believe in," he said as he cut hundreds of sausage links at Beethoven Maennerchor Hall on Pereida St. "Right or wrong, that's just the way we're made."

Dowd is referring to the battle of the Alamo 177 years ago, where 12 Irish-born men helped defend the Alamo. Dozens more descendants from Ireland would also fight to the death for Texas independence.

This year, he’s also talking about a 300-year-old St. Patrick’s Day statue.

"We're fighting for St. Patrick's statue to get him back in shape, and hopefully we'll find a place for him to be on display and so a lot of people can see him," said Dowd.

The statue has been in disrepair and in storage for years, so the society is saving up money to fully restore him -- including a hand that fell off -- and they want to find a place to display him permanently.

Dowd and other members of the society say the money they’re saving from not hosting a street parade will help get St. Patrick back to his former days of glory.

A sensitive subject

In 2012, the society had to cancel the street parade for the first time in 44 years. They were forced to cancel it because of the $12,000 to pay for permit fees, provide police protection, and rent barricades.

Society member Terry Peak said he pleaded with the city a few years ago because he could see the problem on the horizon. He said the city declined to act because the parade did not meet certain requirements.

"The ordinance states that the parades that are exempt are of cultural importance, and yet the Irish have a significant amount of cultural importance in San Antonio," he said last year.

Dowd feels the same way because the same St. Patrick he’s trying to restore now is the same that he says the Institute of Texan Cultures displayed two decades ago. Eventually, he says the Irish section was combined into a European-themed display.

"I guess that was the start of our becoming culturally insignificant in this city because they took the Irish section and put it away for a while, and it became a Celtic section, with just us, the Scotts, the English, just all kind of thrown together and there was no room for St. Pat, the statue, so he sat in the storage until his hand fell off."

Making Irish culture more visible

Hard feelings aside, Dowd said the future is what matters now. He and the other society members want to focus on the next generation of Irish descendants in San Antonio. They are focusing on scholarships.

"We'll stay significant if we keep our young people reminded of our history,” said Dowd.

A late Friday email from Peak seemed to dignify the proud Irish society. The Mayor granted a renaming of the San Antonio Riverwalk to the "River Shannon" for St. Patrick’s Day, and he proclaimed March as Irish-heritage month in the city.

"Our cultural importance is growing," Peak said.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.