A MIRROR ON TODAY'S IRELAND: The Presidio Theatre in San Francisco will host a celebration of the Irish, in all their shapes, sizes and colours

It's St Patrick's Day but not as we know it - kaleidoscope of Irish talent showcased in San Francisco

The land at the Golden Gate was the traditional territory of the Yelamu, a local tribe of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples of the San Francisco Peninsula. It then served as a military outpost for the Spanish Empire, the Mexican Republic, and the United States Army. Today, following three decades of preservation, it’s a national park site.

Nestled in a corner, is the Presidio Theatre, originally built by the U.S. Army as a movie theatre in 1939, and recently renovated into a state-of-the-art performance arts center by Peggy Haas, daughter of Levi Strauss & Co. executive Peter Haas. 

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I was approached last year by the theatre’s executive director Bob Martin, who has successfully programmed Lúnasa (named “the hottest Irish acoustic band on the planet” by The Irish Echo) there since March 2020 — when they were the last act to perform in the then newly opened theatre, before the world went dark.

Martin offered me the opportunity to get my Irish Arts & Writers Festival chops back and flesh out the weekend into an Irish Festival. I had previously programmed three years of Irish Arts & Writers festivals in the small town of Los Gatos in the South Bay, a sister city with Listowel, which lent itself nicely to an Irish town-type festival. But an opportunity to program in this beautiful theatre in the most gorgeous parkland in San Francisco was hard to pass up. 

SHOWCASING IRISH TALENT: The Look of the Irish line-up

SHOWCASING IRISH TALENT: The Look of the Irish line-up

Shortly thereafter, I was back in Ireland browsing through a Sunday newspaper when I came across a review spread about a just-released book “Black & Irish: Legends, Trailblazers and Everyday Heroes” and with those torn-out pages packed into my handbag, I had a ten-hour flight back to San Francisco, and was consumed with little else, thinking what a perfect time it is for Irish America to celebrate diversity and inclusion in Ireland.

From actors to artists to athletes, the book, co-authored by Leon Diop and Brianna Fitzsimons, pays tribute to the likes of Phil Lynott and Ruth Negga but also to a new generation of Black and mixed-race Irish who are coming of age, blazing trails and contributing to our already rich tapestry of Irish arts and culture. Diop, who was born to a white Irish Catholic mother and Senegalese Muslim father, formed his Black & Irish organization with a mission of “empowering Black and Irish communities for an inclusive Ireland,” just as the Black Lives Matter movement was in full swing.

Fast forward a few months (which saw an An Post book award for “Black & Irish,” followed the very next day by anti-immigrant riots in Dublin) “The Look of the Irish” — the overarching theme for the four-event festival presented by Irish Culture Bay Area’s Irish Arts & Writers Festival and the Presidio Theatre — is almost here, and the timing seems right. The festival will proudly celebrate diversity in Irish and Irish American arts and culture across the weekend of March 22-24.

Opening night will showcase the work - music, dance, poetry, film, art - of a panel of diverse artists, who will share their experiences, their stories and their art. Moderated by Diop, the showcase includes (both live and streaming): the work of Irish-Trinidadian artist Maïa Nunes, whose work weaves voice, cloth, movement, sound and the land to create immersive performance worlds; Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi a Wicklow-based writer, poet, editor, educator, and arts facilitator, commissioned on the Poetry as Commemoration project run by the Irish Poetry Reading Archive in UCD; Dr. Phil Mullen, who grew up in the Irish industrial school system, and is currently Associate Professor of Black Studies, Trinity College Dublin and Bay Area Chinese Irish dancer and choreographer, Megan Lowe. 

This festival would not be possible without the support of Culture Ireland and the Consulate General of Ireland, San Francisco. 

Two acclaimed authors that both explore the depths of human experience close out the festival on March 24. Irish author and Bay Area resident Emer Martin, a radical, vital voice in Irish writing, challenges the history of silence, institutional lies, evasion and the mistreatment of women across mid-to-late twentieth-century Ireland. She will read from her latest book in the intergenerational saga that began with “The Cruelty Men” (2018) and continues now with “Thirsty Ghosts” (2023), as punk rockers and Magdalene laundries spiral into a post-colonial Ireland still haunted by its tribal undertow.

“We are at the end of a deceptive violent system of colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchal white supremacy where we viscerally feel the future arriving already exhausted. Writing and art can be used to decolonize through the creation of new realities beyond what we have available to our individual imagination," says Martin. 

In a highly anticipated exclusive author event, award-winning author Colum McCann will discuss his latest books, "American Mother” (March 5, 2024) the gripping story of Diane Foley, whose son James was captured and killed by ISIS while serving as a freelance combat reporter in Syria.  

McCann will also discuss “Aperigon,” the story of two men—one Israeli, and one Palestinian—whose daughters died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fathers founded the Parents Circle Families Forum, whose mission is to foster peace and a reconciliation process. The conversation and interview that follows will be moderated by politician, filmmaker and writer, Kelly Candaele.

NOT SO CHEERY: SF 49ers Irish night with beer bottle opener graphic

NOT SO CHEERY: SF 49ers Irish night with beer bottle opener graphic

 Upon sending out an email blast on this festival, the first welcomed response was “thank you for shaking up my misconceptions about Irishness.”

Indeed, it's time for Irish America to support and reconcile contemporary Ireland and Irish America: As I write, an invite has come in to an upcoming “Irish Night at the Giants.” As much as I am a fan of our San Francisco team, why, oh why is their Irish Night giveaway a baseball hat with a bottle opener attached? We’ve work to do.

For more on the festival, or to make a donation, please visit Irish Culture Bay Area online.

Ticket are available from Presidio Theatre.

Catherine Barry is a Dubliner who has been living in San Francisco for 30 years. She is founder and director of Irish Culture Bay Area and the Irish Arts & Writers Festival, and is editor of SF/Arts magazine.