Saturday, April 16, 2011

Interview with Kevin Roe, Manager of Celtic Cultural Center On Its Founding

Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York, gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this first in a series, Keven explains how the Celtic Hall, as it is known, came to be:

Question: How did the Celtic Cultural Center or Celtic Hall as it's known informally, get started?

Answer: The Association (Capital District Celtic Cultural Association Inc.) founded the Celtic Cultural Center in late 1997 and the beginning of 1998. A group of dance parents, some of whom were also pipers or drummers involved in pipe bands, and I were lamenting there was no mechanism to raise money for the dance schools or the pipe bands. Also, the support of the exiting Irish and Scottish organizations was nowhere near the task.

We decided to put together a small not-for-profit organization to do bake sales, maybe shows or concerts. The first fund raiser was selling hamburgers under the bridge at a Troy Flag Day event. We raised $500 and we thought we were very successful. Then we did a concert at which we were lucky to draw in some acts that became national acts, who came without guaranteed fees and only wanted modest fees. The concert did very well and we had $10,000. We thought we'd book a big concert in March in the Egg, and the weather got us. We lost a little money at that point.

We slowed down our activity somewhat and started looking for other opportunities. We were fortunate to be offered an opportunity to run Bingo at the Troy Atrium, and we took it.

We began to do bingo and at the end of the year we had $50,000. We opened an office in Troy with five rooms making up about 2,000 square feet. Peter Jones, an Irish musician, owned the building at the time and he leased to us. We did Irish dance, some language, and music.

After a few years we realized we were paying an inordinate amount of rent in a space we could use for only four hours on any particular day, because it wasn't ours. That's when we decided to create our own home. We leased a space in East Greenbush. That lease was bought out as someone wanted the space enough to do that. We received compensation to terminate our lease early. With the proceeds from that we bought the wonderful building on New Karner Road (430 New Karner Rd, Colonie, NY) and of course we have a mortgage to pay.

The cultural programs themselves have built up over time. They've been impacted by the ups and downs of us having a space and not having a space. We were without space for two years. We are now in the process of revitalizing the programs we have.

Q: How many square feet do you have here?

A: We have 22,500 square feet of interior space. The main halls are a total of 12,000 square feet. The balance is office space, music studio, dance studio, storage, bathrooms and kitchen.

The programs are affected a lot by the space. Our programs have grown by five times what we were doing in East Greenbush, because of the more central location, and we've gotten wiser in what we do and how we do it. The organization is a little more experienced now.

Q: Before we learn more about the Celtic Hall, do you mind explaining your Irish history, Kevin?

A: I go back to Ireland through both sides of my family. The sides go in different directions. My father was the only son of an only son, so we don't have a lot of uncles and aunts; it's a pretty direct line. We've been able to trace our émigré ancestor on the Roe side to Galway. Unfortunately most of the Irish records were destroyed during the rebellion in 1916 or before that. What few are left are in parishes, and much of the country was very rural in the mid-1800s when my family came here. We did find the parish and did talk to the parish priest in person. Turns out the bartender in Town was also a good contact as the bartender knew everyone in Town, and the Town is less than a hundred people. We spent about two hours talking to the bartender who had been the village bartender for the last 50 years, but he had never heard of my family.

On my mother's side, there is a completely different story. They were Ulstermen. Some refer to them as Scotch Irish. They were just as Irish as Paddy's pig, but Orangemen. Their fealty was to the crown and to Scotland. When I go to see my great uncles and aunts in Canada, they are very much identified with Ulster and they are Unionists. The Roe side of the family would naturally identify with Nationalist, Republican positions. When I figured that out about ten years ago, I was surprised. My mom said you have to go meet Uncle Billy, the Orangeman. He literally went through his whole life known as Billy The Orangeman. He was somewhat radical in his political stripe even in his own family. There is a lot of cross over in the Irish in America and I guess I'm a perfect example. With my Ulster heritage, when I need to be Scottish here at the Hall, I can at least pretend!

For the next portion of Kevin's talk where he discusses the pipe bands at the Hall, click here after this link goes live in a couple of days!

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