“Fáilte roimh cách” is how you say “all welcome” in Gaelic, and “Nollaig shona daoibh” is “Merry Christmas,” but you don’t have to know either of the above to feel welcome at the Knoxville Irish Society’s Irish Christmas Party. It’s from 6 to 9:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 17, at Calhoun’s on Bearden Hill.
Knoxville Irish Society president Christian King says all are welcome to come mingle. There will be a game of Dirty Santa (bring a gift valued under $7 if you would like to participate), and attendees will learn a bit about how Christmas is and was celebrated in Ireland.
King says the purpose of the not-for-profit, organized in July 2016, is to teach and practice authentic Irish culture and create a cohesive community for those interested in Ireland. You don’t have to have any Irish ancestry to belong, he says: “You only have to have Ireland in your heart.”
Membership in the society is free, and there are monthly “eat and greet” social sessions at a classroom space at the city’s Public Works Service Center at 3131 Morris Ave. These are from 3 to 5 p.m. the second Saturday of each month. There is often a film, a featured speaker or a related program.
The group has a growing presence at area festivals and gatherings, including St. Patrick’s Day happenings, and marked Samhain, the Gaelic New Year, with a community-wide gathering this year at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
In the coming year, the group will hold its first céilí, or Irish dance, 6-9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, also at the public works building, featuring three traditional Irish dances. Admission is free for KIS members, $5 otherwise. King says the group plans for it to be an annual event and would eventually like to hold three or four céilí a year.
One of the group’s most novel offerings is a beginner’s Gaelic class, which starts Jan. 20, and is offered weekly on the second Sunday of each month. Class details can be found here.
A Memphis native, King spent two years at the University of Limerick, where he developed a love for the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” He helped organize the Memphis Irish Society before moving to Knoxville.
Of Ireland, he says, “The people and culture are extraordinary. Education and learning are valued in the Irish culture. They’re a sweet people, too. A lot of tourists don’t expect the warmth and friendliness you find there.”
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