Arlene WilliamsonThe Irish Cultural Society of Calgary, Alberta, is hosting a unique event this Saturday afternoon. The group’s media & communications director Arlene Williamson explains.

What are your own roots?
My maiden name is Curran and my grandfather was Hugh Curran from a small place called Ballysugagh, County Down, Northern Ireland. He came to Canada in the Summer of 1924 and homesteaded in Northern Saskatchewan, until he eventually moved to Regina and established a construction business that he ran until his late seventies. My great grandmother was Mary Ann McCartan from Downpatrick, County Down and my grandmother Florence Tyler, was from Manchester, England.  So as you can see by all the names and places, I am quite a Celtic mix.  My heritage has always fascinated me and I finally had the opportunity to go back to Ireland a few years ago. It was quite an emotional thing for me to see the plot of land that my family is from in Ballysugagh. I am quite sentimental about it and I still have the handful of slate rocks I scooped from the lane where my family must have trod a century ago.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
I’m on the Board of Directors for the Irish Cultural Society of Calgary and last year we were discussing possible fundraising and social events for our membership and the community. The idea of a high tea came up. Several of us on the Board have been to high tea and thought it would be a fun way to celebrate Spring as well as fundraise for our Building Fund and Care Committee. I thought I’d take on organizing this event since I have been to high teas around the world, including several in Ireland. I’ve always enjoyed high tea and thought this would be a fun and fruitful way of bringing people together. As Henry James put it, ” There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Tea and the Irish are inseparable.

Why is it an important event for the community there?
It is important because our Big Hats and High Tea event will give the Irish Cultural Society (ICS) more exposure in Calgary. The ICS has been representing the Irish community for over 25 years here and as I go out and talk to people most of them are hearing about us for the first time. The reactions I have been receiving have been positive and most people are curious to know what events we are holding and how they might get more information. This event is particularly important now that we are seeing record numbers of new Irish immigrants moving to Calgary. We need to be visible and accessible to all who are Irish or share an appreciation for Irish culture. I also believe the tea will provide us with a great way to fundraise as well as help foster a sense of community and have some fun with our culture.

Who attends the event?
This is our first annual Big Hats & High Tea event so I am uncertain exactly who will attend this year. The event is open to ladies from both our membership and Calgary community. It is my hope to attract people from our community that might have never stepped into the Irish Cultural Centre before.

What can they expect this year?
The Big Hats and High Tea event will include of course, tea, which has been kindly donated by The Naked Leaf teashop in Kensington. Tea will be sipped to the beautifully melodic sounds of a traditional Celtic harp played by Kathy Pepers. As well, attendees will enjoy special tea sandwiches, sweets and traditional scones with clotted cream and lemon curd. There will be prizes for best hat and a special draw for those participants bringing a non-perishable food item for the Calgary Food Bank. Several merchants from Calgary have been generous and have donated prizes for our silent auction as well as for door prizes.  As to be expected, there will be lots of entertainment in the form of chitchat.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
Yes, as long as the membership is willing to have me represent them as their Media and Communications Director. I take this role seriously and I hope to steward the Society in a responsible and forward thinking manner. I have put a lot of time and effort into organizing Big Hats and High Tea this year and I see it as my “baby”, so I would love to stay on and organize this event in years to come.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
I also serve as the ICS Media and Communications Director. I see myself as an ambassador and communicator and my goal is to advance the ICS into the social media age. Before 2013, we depended primarily on mailings and word of mouth to publicize our events and activities within the organization. We had very little contact with the broader Calgary community. Now that we have social media at our fingertips, it enables a non-for profit like us to generate publicity for a more reasonable cost and in a timelier manner. It is my goal to let Calgarians know that we exist and encourage anyone who might be interested in Irish culture to come out and join us at any of our events.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
I think if our culture is important to us preservation and promotion come naturally. To me culture is an organic thing. It will always change and evolve yet it preserves its important traditions. So, yes, I do see enough being done to preserve Celtic culture.

What can we be doing better?
I think we can be a little more welcoming to people who appreciate Celtic culture but who are not necessarily Celtic themselves. There are several cultural festivals that are held in Calgary that I really enjoy attending although they are not part of my ethnicity. I think it’s important to show people what the Celts have contributed to society and offer a friendly invitation to share in our culture.