To tell the story of the Irish immigrants and their descendants in Newport County and the surrounding area from the colonial era to the present and to seek to preserve artifacts and mementoes relating to their experiences and facilitate research on Irish history and heritage.
Accomplishments to Date
Founded in 1996. Founders included the late Vincent Arnold, the late Robert McKenna, and local historian, Patrick F. Murphy. First newsletter was published in the spring of 1997, noting within that the organization was comprised of 70 members. The first annual meeting was held at the LaForge Casino Restaurant in March 1998. First slate of officers: Vincent Arnold (president), Hon. Robert J. McKenna (1st VP), Elliott “Skip” Carter (2nd VP), Margaret Ahearn (secretary), Barbara Donnelly (treasurer). The organization had 110 members at that time and went on to obtain 501c3 non-profit organizational status.
Restored the historic Barney Street (St. Joseph’s) Cemetery, established in the 1830s to support Rhode Island’s first Catholic parish, and the final resting place of some of Newport’s earliest Irish immigrants. Restored cemetery was rededicated and blessed in March 1999. Museum volunteers continue to maintain and beautify the cemetery site.
In 2000, donated over 100 books on Irish history, music, poetry and literature to all Newport County high schools and middle schools. In 2003 the Museum’s office was at the Eisenhower House at Fort Adams State Park.
Established the “Michael F. Crowley Lecture Series” in fall 2002, with the inaugural talk presented by Prof. John Quinn of Salve Regina University. Five to six lectures on topics of Irish historical interest are presented each fall-winter by university-based and independent scholars and experts from the region and beyond. Institutions represented have included: Brown University, Providence College, University of Massachusetts, Boston College, University of Rhode Island, Salve Regina University, Fairfield University, College of the Holy Cross, Villanova University, Roger Williams University. Introduced life-streaming of lectures during covid-19 pandemic. The Museum enjoys strong attendance, in person and via Zoom for its Crowley Lectures.
Received a $3,000 R.I. Legislative Grant in 2006 to research Irish immigrants servants in Newport estates.
First annual benefit gala, dubbed “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” was hosted at Salve Regina University’s Ochre Court, in February 2010. The popular annual galas are the Museum’s primary fundraiser for its Interpretive Center, operated seasonally on Lower Thames Street. The last gala prior to the pandemic hiatus, the 10th annual, “Shamrocks & Seashells,” was hosted at Easton’s Beach Rotunda Ballroom in August, 2019.
Designed and constructed an Interpretive Center, which was opened to the public in June 2011 at 648 Lower Thames Street within an existing storefront rental property. During its first two seasons of operation (May-Oct.), trained volunteer docents educated and guided more than 1,500 visitors from the U.S. and abroad. The organization had 500 members at the time. The Center houses a library containing more than 200 books on various Irish historical topics. In its early years, the Center produced two videos on Newport Irish history and sold more than 200 copies (videos now available on our website “Media” page). The Center also provides access to oral interviews of local resident of Irish birth or descent. Currently, the organization has over 800 members.
Each March, in celebration of Newport Irish Heritage Month, the Museum docent volunteers conduct free bus tours of “Irish Newport,” sponsored by Viking Tours of Newport, which provides the “trolley” vehicle and driver. Participants are taken to sites of Irish historical interest, including Fort Adams, the Forty Steps on Cliff Walk, the Barney Street Cemetery and St. Mary’s Church.
The Museum hosts numerous social/cultural events including Irish musical and storytelling events, day trips to nearby museums and sites of Irish historical interest, fundraising social gatherings, etc. The Museum also sponsors the annual “Dancing at the Forty Steps” event each March, weather permitting.
In the Spring of 2022, three Newport Irish walking self-guided walking tour brochures were introduced. The brochures, including a neighborhood map for each tour, are available at the Interpretive Center. The tours explore historical sites and buildings connected to Newport’s Irish community. The brochures may also be ordered online. Visit this page for details.
Speakers are available for schools and service organizations such as AARP, Rotary, Military Officers Association and senior centers.