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The Irish Presence in Albuquerque

In Albuquerque, one does not have to look far to see the influential presence of the Emerald Isle. Celtic shops, Irish celebrations and festivals, traditional Irish pubs and Irish-American clubs and organizations are spread throughout the city. Irish influence and culture are alive and thriving in the Duke City.


Anyone can  learn about traditional Celtic Music at Apple Mountain Music. This store offers lessons and carries many instruments used in Celtic music, including Irish flutes and whistles.

Irish Cuisine and Traditional Irish Pubs

No establishment offers a more authentic Irish menu than Two Fool’s Tavern, located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district. The owners created this restaurant as an “authentic replica of the pubs they had visited in Ireland.” It features traditional favorites such as cottage pie, bangers and mash, and of course, corned beef and cabbage.

O’Niell’s Pub in Albuquerque is another restaurant and bar in Albuquerque where people can share in an Irish pub experience. It is well-known for its warm, friendly environment and delicious food. Other restaurants such as Maloney’s Tavern in downtown Albuquerque and Bennigan’s also offer Irish food and drink.

Celtic Music in Albuquerque

Irish and Celtic music is extremely popular in Albuquerque, and Irish singers and bands give frequent performances at venues in the city. One popular group in Albuquerque is Fonn Sona, which means “Happy Melody” in Irish. They specialize in performing jigs, waltzes, polkas and more. Gerry Carthy is an Ireland native who has been playing traditional Irish Music in the Southwest for over twenty years. Saoirse, which means “freedom” in Irish, is another local band that brings to Albuquerque music from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Galacia. Three Leaf Shamrock, Shennanigans, Blarneystone, and the Celtic Coyotes can all be heard in Albuquerque.

Stores, pubs, and restaurants throughout Albuquerque frequently open their stages to Irish and Celtic performers. At Two Fools Tavern in Nob Hill, Celtic music can be enjoyed every Sunday, both a live band and an open Celtic jam session. O’Neill’s Pub also features traditional and contemporary Celtic music on Sundays, as does Whole Foods Market. Celtic music can also be heard on a local radio station every Sunday, during The Thistle and Shamrock program, which airs on KANW 89.1.


There are several Irish-American organizations based in Albuquerque who work to keep the presence of Irish heritage and culture alive in the city. These organizations add to the mosaic of culture and diversity that comprises the city of Albuquerque.

The Irish-American Society of New Mexico is a non-profit, non-political, and non-sectarian organization devoted to furthering Irish-American relations through education, travel, recreation, charity, music, literature and dance. The aim of the Irish-American Society is to promote the preservation and study of Irish culture among interested persons in New Mexico. In years past, the Irish-American Society sponsored the Children’s Friendship Project of Northern Ireland, in which Protestant and Catholic children were brought to New Mexico to live together, learn from each other, and develop respect and admiration for their differences.

The Irish-American Society of New Mexico established a separate non-profit corporation known as the Irish Heritage Center. The main goal of this group is to construct an Irish Heritage Center in the greater Albuquerque or Rio Rancho area in the not too distant future. As envisioned, the Center would provide a forum for artistic and literary events as well as programs and festivals for all members of our multicultural community. Kate Nash, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Heritage Center, explains that all people should have an opportunity to learn about their cultures, so they can better develop a “sense of self.” The Irish Heritage Center would provide a rich educational and cultural experience for anyone throughout the state searching to understand their Irish roots. Included in the Center would also be a museum and a library of Celtic history and culture.

The Irish Group of Albuquerque is a Special Interest Group of the Albuquerque Genealogical Society. The Irish Group presents discussions and lectures on the history of Irish immigration in the United States and issues in the study of Irish immigration. Members focus on tracing their ancestry from Ireland as well. According to the Irish Interest Group’s Coordinator, Elaine Armstrong, the group exists to help people find their roots and offers many useful presentations, such as how to write a family genealogy. The lectures are free and open to the public, and anyone of Irish descent, or anyone interested in a history of immigration, will find the lectures informative and interesting. 

Cultural Celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every March 17th all over the world. This day marks the death of St. Patrick in the fifth century, the saint credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. An annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is held in the streets of Albuquerque for people of Irish descent to display their Irish pride. In addition to the St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations that people of all cultures and backgrounds enjoy all over the city of Albuquerque, Irish-Americans in New Mexico find numerous other occasions to celebrate their heritage.

The Annual Brother Matthias Dinner is held every year in Albuquerque in honor of Brother Matthias Barrett, who founded the Little Brothers of the Good Shepard. The Dinner also serves as a fundraiser for the Good Shepard Center in Albuquerque, which provides emotional, physical, and spiritual support for the poor, sick, and disadvantaged in the city. The Dinner has been held annually for over fifty years now, and participants enjoy corned beef and cabbage and Irish entertainment.

The Annual Emerald Ball is a formal event sponsored by the Irish Heritage Center and the Irish-American Society of New Mexico to raise funds for the construction of an Irish Heritage Center in Albuquerque or Rio Rancho. This building would include a museum and a library dedicated to Irish history and culture. Participants of the Emerald Ball enjoy dinner, dancing, Irish music, and a silent auction filled with many items straight from Ireland.

For over twenty years now an annual Celtic Festival and Highland Games is held in Albuquerque. People are given the opportunity to experience the food, dance, music, history, and sporting events of the Celtic cultures. This Festival includes celebrations of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Manx, and Galician cultures. It is a full day of events and celebrations and a wonderful opportunity to have fun and learn about Celtic heritage at the same time. 

Influential Irish in Albuquerque

It is simply impossible to recognize all of the people of Irish descent who have contributed to the diversity and culture of Albuquerque. The following people are among those who have dedicated their time and effort and worked diligently to keep the presence of Irish culture alive in Albuquerque, and educate their fellow citizens on Irish customs and history.

Elaine Armstrong

When Elaine Armstrong learned that her ancestors came from what is now Northern Ireland to the city of Philadelphia in the early 1800s, she began to more thoroughly study her Irish connections. She is now the coordinator of the Irish Interest Group of the Albuquerque Genealogy Society. Elaine has become very aware of the contributions Irish Americans have made to this nation and state and challenges faced by the millions of destitute Irish who came to North American during and after the Irish Potato Famine. She says that her study has “given me a perspective of immigration in general and an appreciation of the impact Irish immigrants have had on the US.” She has learned so much from her experience with the Irish Interest Group of AGS, and said about her experiences:

“After studying Irish and Irish-American history for a couple of years, I see the Irish, in general, as an example of a group that came to North America and endured the hardships of establishing themselves in a new place, and persevered through discrimination to become fully integrated into life in America, and out of whose ranks have come truly great men and women.”

Olive Bell
Olive Bell has devoted countless hours to promoting Celtic culture and heritage in Albuquerque. Her Irish ancestors came to North America in the early 1800s, motivated by the promise for land and better living conditions. She has lived in Albuquerque since 1937, and explained that one of the many reasons she loves New Mexico is for its ethnic and cultural diversity. She explains that there are very few places in this country where someone can experience and participate in so many different cultural celebrations.

She is very proud of her Scotch-Irish heritage, and first joined both the St. Andrew’s Society and the Irish-American Society in the 1960s. Olive explains that the early meetings of IAS were held at members’ houses in the afternoons, and the members would enjoy a potluck and bag pipes. She was the first Chairman of the Celtic Festival and Highland Games in Albuquerque. She is now the great-grandmother of nine children, and she hopes that they will learn to have as much fun with their Irish heritage as she has.

Ellen Dowling
Ellen Dowling’s maternal grandmother arrived on Ellis Island in 1920 at the age of nineteen. She was raised in Country Kerry, and came to the United States to find work. Her father’s parents also emigrated from Ireland in the early 1900s from County Roscommon, and settled in Long Island. Ellen is particularly proud of the contributions Irish immigrants like her ancestors have made to the development of the United States. Irish immigrants and their descendents built the Erie Canal, expanded the railroad to the west, and have served in every major war in this country, including the Revolution and the Civil War, in the face of discrimination and hardship. Ellen stated they did this all “while keeping a chipper heart and a love of fun and laughter!”

Ellen finds many ways to celebrate her Irish heritage through her very active role in the Irish-American Society. She says about IAS, “We have lots of opportunities to celebrate all things Irish in New Mexico!” Some of her favorite celebrations include St. Patrick’s Day, when members of the IAS sponsor a wonderful celebration for all to enjoy, and the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She also enjoys celebrating Samhain, or Celtic New Year (also called Halloween), in which participants can dress in costumes. She is a huge fan of Irish music and dancing, particularly Ceili and step dancing. She carries on the Irish tradition of delicious Irish soda bread, a recipe that was passed down from her grandmother, which she still makes in the original cast iron frying pan. Ellen has also given presentations on Irish in New Mexico to the Albuquerque Historical Society to promote the contributions of Irish Americans to the development and diversity of the Land of Enchantment.

Malachy Mahon
Malachy and his wife, Alice, emigrated from Ireland in the 1970s, and came to New Mexico in 2004. He says “I always felt at home in the US as Americans share a lot of the same customs as the Irish.” Because most of the immigrants to the United States came here from Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Americans have adopted many of their customs. Malachy particularly sees many parallels between the Irish and Hispanic culture, and has noticed that both the Spanish and Irish cherish valuable family time, a tradition that has passed down through generations in both cultures. In Albuquerque, he admires “the beautiful churches, the Roman Catholic religion, the friendliness, and a people that are not afraid to help out in their community.”

Malachy is currently President of the Irish Heritage Center Board, and has worked diligently for the last several years to make the Irish Heritage Center a reality. Ten percent of the population of New Mexico claims some Irish heritage, and there is a great need for a cultural center. Also, because Ireland has experienced significant economic growth, fewer and fewer Irish are coming to the United States. His generation could be the last with the opportunity to build a cultural center. It is so crucial that the people of Irish descent have a cultural home to come together and learn about their heritage, customs, and traditions. Anyone can learn something about another culture and appreciate the rich heritage and contributions Ireland has made to this nation. Without this, Malachy fears that the song, dance, storytelling, and all of Irish culture might be lost forever. “It’s important that we work together to be successful not only for us, but for our children, grandchildren, and those not yet born.”

Colm Matthews
Colm Matthews arrived in Albuquerque in 1986 from Dundalk, Ireland, and explains that he experienced a significant culture shock upon arriving in New Mexico. He immediately noticed the diversity in ethnicities, religions, and languages and thought it was wonderful to see so many different cultures interacting. Matthews explains that one similarity between the Irish culture and cultures in Albuquerque is that people are very protective of their heritage and make sure that their children do not forget their customs. He teaches his children to respect their home while still preserving their Irish heritage and traditions. For example, a popular Irish celebration in the United States is St. Patrick’s Day, but Matthews celebrates this day in a very different way from the majority of Americans. He attends his daughter’s school, and talks to the children about the true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day and of the Saint himself. This tradition not only educates children about the roots and meaning of this important Irish holiday but also serves to encourage children to appreciate diversity and their own heritage. The children, and his daughter, love to hear stories about leprechauns. Matthews explains to them that only people from Ireland have their own leprechaun, and only Ireland natives can see them.

One of the most important aspects of modern Irish history is the 1998 peace treaty known as the “Good Friday Agreement,” which he calls “the beginning of the end of the problems in Northern Ireland.” Everyone deserves a chance to live in peace. He hopes more people will pay attention to both the problems that Ireland has faced in the past and the hopes of peace for the nation’s future. One thing he hopes will change soon is Ireland’s reputation for drinking, which is not only a negative stereotype but also untrue and unfair to the younger population in Ireland. Instead, people should focus on Ireland’s wonderful educational system, which ensures that every child in Ireland has a chance to attain higher education.

Finally, Matthews explained that one of the most wonderful things about the United States is that no matter what side of the political divide you come from, this country is a wonderful place that is full of different races and ethnicities, ideals, and runs beautifully for democracy. He loves this country for what it has done for him and his family.

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