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COVER STORY : A Complicated Clan : Area Irish-Americans keep their culture alive, largely through Valley groups.

March 12, 1993|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kathleen Kelleher writes regularly for The Times

The Irish are taking it on the chin this St. Patrick's Day.

The O'Hollywood St. Patrick's Day Parade, which celebrates the biggest Irish pride day of the year, was canceled for lack of funding.

As with many things Irish, there has been a history of bickering and dissension over the quality and venue of the parade, or, well, parades.

One St. Patrick's Day parade was put on in downtown Los Angeles from 1984 to 1990. That parade, largely run by merchants who found independent sponsorship, moved to Century City in 1991 and 1992. Then there were the Beverly Hills St. Patrick's Day parades in 1985 and 1986 put on by Jimmy Murphy, the Irish-born owner of Jimmy's, a fashionable Beverly Hills restaurant.

Pasadena's Chamber of Commerce had its version of the parade from 1981 through 1985. And Hollywood started putting on the "official" parade with funding from the city and dubbed it the O'Hollywood St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1985, a year when four parades occurred simultaneously. This year, however, the $10,000 in funding from the city for the Hollywood parade fell through. All the other parades are off.

To ensure there isn't a similar denouement next year, the Irish Fair Foundation Inc., which became involved with the O'Hollywood St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1986, and the Greater Los Angeles Irish American St. Patrick's Day Committee--sister organizations based in North Hollywood-- have garnered financial support for the 1994 event. Organizers hope there will be one magnificent, cohesive parade next year.

Such slights notwithstanding, the L.A. enclave of Irish-Americans who support and spread Irish culture here--called "the Irish village" by one local Irishman--stridently thrives on largely in the San Fernando Valley and, in recent years, has even made considerable gains.

A new monthly Irish newspaper, The Irish Times, began publishing in October, taking the place of three Los Angeles-based Irish newspapers that failed in years past. Ceili (pronounced kay-lee), the Gaelic word for a traditional Irish dance social, has been revived through the efforts of a North Hollywood dance teacher. And Des Regan's Irish American Band, an institution in the community, has played for the last 26 years throughout Los Angeles, maintaining a frantic pace of performances at Irish fund-raisers, pubs and parties. Regan, a resident of Sylmar, has even done musical tours of Ireland, where he is well-known.

And every year for the last 50 years, a Los Angeles woman and man have been nominally honored as the Irishwoman and Irishman of the Year in a ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall--an honor that, were you Irish, would be the highest compliment.

But what has long been the curse of the Irish, who tend to be clannish, in Los Angeles is the community's lack of cohesion, the absence of an Irish community center and the obstacles posed by the population's dogged diaspora.

Those qualities have not gone unnoticed by Irish Times publisher Tom Kelly, a resident of Canoga Park for the last five years and a native of County Cork, Ireland. Before he came to Los Angeles, Kelly never thought of himself as a newspaperman. After completing course work at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Kelly wrote business plans in the late '80s for small, start-up publications, which he says, was all the more reason to avoid the business.

With Tom McConville's "The Irish Hour" (on Glendale radio station KIEV-870 AM) the only information source for Los Angeles' dissipated Irish community, Kelly decided a newspaper was in order.

"The Irish community needed some glue to pull them together and I figured this would be a start," said Kelly, who puts the 20-page newspaper together at his house and funds it with advertising revenues. "You don't come out expecting to get it right immediately, especially with a community as complicated as the Irish. The definition I love of the Irish that explains that best is: 'You put two Irish people in a room together and you get three political parties.' We're difficult to understand and we don't agree on much."

Kelly's paper is largely reader-driven, filled with local stories on the Irish community, news and sports from Ireland, features, Gaelic-language quizzes and a three-month calendar of regional events. The paper circulates among about 8,000 readers from Ventura to Orange counties and sells for a $16 yearly subscription.

Kelly is banking on the 990,000 area people who identified themselves as Irish-Americans on the 1990 U.S. census.

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