The Irish Cultural and Heritage Center supports the Irish Community by serving as a venue dedicated to enhancing, promoting an preserving Irish culture and heritage, and serving the community at large.
About the Building
For over 30 years, The Irish Cultural & Heritage Center (ICHC) has been the premier Irish music venue in Milwaukee. From Tommy Makem, Frank Paterson, and Cherish the Ladies to The High Kings, Makem & Clancy, and We Banjo 3, the ICHC has hosted countless legendary performances. Today, the ICHC continues that tradition of bringing world-class performers to the area.
In 1887, designed by Edward Townsend Mix, the building was the Grand Avenue Congregational Church on the then-called Grand Avenue, now Wisconsin Ave. A principle feature of the new building was the remarkably large auditorium, which remained Milwaukee’s largest auditorium for public use for over 60 years. The church thrived and in 1910, the magnificent Kimball Pipe Organ was added to the sanctuary. In 1986, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of its proudest moments came the evening of August 14, 1957. With the help of the local NAACP chapter, the church welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into the auditorium for what was his first-ever speaking engagement in Milwaukee.
On December 2, 1996, the title of the Grand Avenue Congregational Church was transferred to the ICHC for a cost of one dollar. Board members of the ICHC who were present that day were: Dick Tierney, Mark Connelly, Jean Bills, and Dale Brenon, president whom each paid 25 cents for the purchase price. Representing the church were John Simonson, chairman of the board of trustees, Harrison Henry, moderator, and Rev. Keith Farnham.
It was mutually agreed that the church congregation could continue to hold religious services and maintain office and storage space at the facility. After about one year however, the Grand Avenue Congregational Church dissolved its congregation and its members dispersed to other locations.
The years have not been kind to the building. Just like the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN or the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton, WI, the building fell into disrepair. Over the last 10 years, the volunteers and the Irish community have come together to restore the auditorium back to its glory.
The ICHC hosts many organizations including: The Ancient Order of Hibernians, Shamrock Club of Wisconsin, and Immigrant Library. It is also home to three performance spaces, a relaxing pub, and several meeting rooms.