Northern California Celtic Societies

Organizations for Scots, Irish and more

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker

It is summer 2018, the festival season is in full swing, and perhaps you've recently been to either the The Woodland Celtic Games and Festival or  are planning to attend the Silicon Valley Irish Fleadh (Irish festival, in Mountain View May 12th - 13th), or the HUGE 153rd Scottish Highland Gathering and Games in Pleasanton over the Labor Day weekend. You might be wondering where else you might get involved in something Scottish, or Irish, and social, as well as doing some community good. Some people enjoy more than just going to an occasional pub-restaurant for music or festival. If you are interested in more, you might consider participating in and joining one or more of a our local membership organizations, which we will try to mention in this article.

Several, including United Irish Cultural Center and the San Francisco chapters of the St. Andrew's Society and the Caledonian Club of SF own their own buildings, and offer regular meetings and events in the same place every time, (rather than having to find a space and then let everyone know where the event will be every time.

The United Irish Cultural Center (UICC) owns a large facility, with a number of large and small meeting and banquet rooms for all kinds of events, its own full restaurant and maintains a menu with a number of Irish/British favorites and a large bar. UICC hosts a regular live Irish music and dance, and a monthly session every first Saturday of every month that often has participation from a number of members of local bands in attendance. UICC has a number of cultural events and social activities on other evenings and Saturday afternoons. It has affiliations and divisions that support other Celtic entities such as the local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) teams, a pipe band, and is a leading organizer of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in San Francisco. Many UICC members are also members of the Irish Literary and Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area or other organizations which helps raise scholarship funds for Irish students to study in the U.S. and American students to study in Ireland. It has 800 plus members, and membership is available to anyone interested in Irish heritage, culture, the organization and/or its affiliates. The UICC is located in west San Francisco just north of the San Francisco zoo at 2700 45th Ave, San Francisco, and has parking at the site and on the street around it. It's a great place to take the family!

The Saint Andrews Society of San Francisco (SASSF) meets in an attractive historic fire-house that it owns at 1088 Green St, San Francisco, and at it's monthly meetings, offers free valet parking for members and guests. It holds educational meetings about topics covering Scotland, Scots-American relationships, and has a number of very nice social events including whiskey samplings, dinners with poetry readings (some definitely humorous) like the annual 'Robert Burns Supper', dancing, etc. some of which it holds in conjunction with the Oakland chapter and the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. It raises funds for scholarships in Scotland (Scots coming to the U.S. and Americans going to study in Scotland), and Erskine, a hospital for wounded Scots servicemen, including chronic conditions from service injuries, etc.. SASSF meetings often begin with complementary light refreshments and beverages. Its membership is open to people with or without some Scottish heritage who have an interest in the organization, Scotland, etc.

There are Saint Andrew's Society chapters in Oakland and Sacramento as well, but note that not all chapters have the same degree of liberal membership policies. One or more chapters of St. Andrew's has a hospitality and information booth at most of the area's Scottish gatherings and games.

The Caledonian Club of San Francisco (CCSF) has a building in South San Francisco, where is hosts it's monthly meetings. They have a dining room and bar, but they are available only to members and guests accompanying members. CCSF has several annual social events, but it's main effort is hosting (doing all the work of arranging and managing) the Scottish Highland Gathering and Games, the largest such event in the world, (certainly in the U.S.) at the Alameda County Fairgounds on Labor Day Weekend (first weekend in September) every year, and also supports a local area pipe band. It's membership is more restricted than SASSF, and it's membership rules requires a full member to be male and have at least one line of well-documented Scottish ancestry. Again membership requirements vary among the chapters of the Caledonian Clubs.

For example, the Caledonian Club of Sacramento (CCS) is generally more flexible on membership and grants membership to female applicants. The CCS also hosts (does all the work again) for the Sacramento Valley Scottish Games and Festival held in late April at the Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland, not far from Sacramento.

In the Bay Area, there are two smaller Scottish organizations, the South Bay Scottish Society, (SBSS) and the East Bay Scottish Association (EBSA, formerly Tri-Cities). Each has monthly meetings, with films, speakers, etc. and host smaller events. EBSA hosts the Tartan Day Scottish festival at Ardenwood Historic Farm Park in Fremont about the first weekend in April, every year. Both also host Robert Burns suppers, with poetry and other entertainment, and SBSS also hosts an annual Christmas-time dinner where members and guests bring toys for the U.S Marine Corps "Toys for Tots" drive. (For those who don't know: the U.S. Marines and Navy were founded by Scottish Americans and the Scots organizations feel they have a special relationship with these entities. This is why larger festivals also often have a U.S. Marine Corps. band play at them.)

There are many additional non-Bay area smaller Scottish societies for the Goldrush Country along Highway 49, Fresno and Modesto, as well as the Monterey Bay area. These include the Mother Lode Scots the Big Trees Scottish Gathering & Highland Games (which hosts the recently revived gathering and games in Felton in October), the Dixon Scottish Cultural Association (gathering and games in late September), most of whom host meetings, and small and large events. The Scottish games usually have a strong Irish presence as well as most Americans are a mixture of both Scots and Irish and the organizers appreciate this, as well as the shared history and culture of the two.

For those living around the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains, the is the venerable Celtic Society of Monterey Bay with a 25 year record of bringing world class Celtic musicians to the Monterey Bay Area. These concerts happen about twice every month and CSoMB is a key sponsor of AmeriCeltic.

Last but not least, a major Celtic music festival with a lot of additional entertainment, including Irish dancing, demonstrations of Scottish competitive activities (don't stand too close to either the weight for distance throw or the caber toss!), and historical re-enactments/demonstrations, is the KVMR Celtic Festival at the Nevada County fairgrounds at Grass Valley the first weekend in October. This event has six stages of music, and additional smaller venues as well, jousting, shopping galore. It's a beautiful site, generally wonderful weather, a heckuva bargain for the admission fee, and a lot of fun!

In later newsletters we're going to cover, separately, each of the major organizations and their major activities/events in greater detail with comments from officers for your benefit. There are lots of friendly and fun-loving people in all of them and they do a lot of good.


The St. Andrew's Society of San Francisco

Our Ain Ills Hae Strength To Bear Anither's Aye Hae Heart To Feel

Meetings 3rd Monday, 1088 Green Street, San Francisco

By Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker

The St. Andrew's Society of San Francisco, (SASSF), is a very old, friendly and well-regarded Scottish organization. Its members first gathered to celebrate their heritage and help one another in the 1850's but was formally established as a registered Society in 1863. It is one of the oldest cultural-combined-with-charitable organizations in California history.

From its website page of history and purposes: "Our Society joins persons of Scottish birth and those of the same heritage in a bond of cultural and benevolent purpose, the latter best expressed in their motto:

'Our Ain llls Aye Hae Strength to Bear, Anither's Aye Hae Heart to Feel.'

The organization does a significant amount of charitable works.

'Aid to people of Scots origin or descent in distress remains an important function to us.' and the organization joins other Scottish and British organizations in special projects from time to time to accomplish this.'Our Board of Student Assistance helps students of the same background who are from Northern California or Scotland and in their last two years of college or are in graduate study. In terms of cultural promotion, encouragement in tangible form is given to bagpipe bands, Highland dance groups, and Celtic music study.'

As for fun, SASSF hosts all the usual Scottish celebrations, including a posh St. Andrews Day Banquet and Ball in November, a Robert Burns Dinner in January, and a Scottish-born John Muir tribute in April. These events and monthly meetings all likely include distinguished guests and speakers, business persons, technicians, doctors, educators, high technology experts, lawyers, engineers, specialists in banking and investment, and active and retired military personnel, and frequently notable people from the Mother Country all of whom have a special interest in their Scottish inheritance and background.

SASSF is a membership organization that accepts members of both sexes who have some Scottish heritage and an interest in Scots culture and history, current events, and the charities this organization supports as well as fun. Members and officers are genial, friendly people and will gladly help you become a member if you are interested. Its regular monthly meeting is the third Monday of each month, at 7:30 p.m. in its Historic Engine Co. #31 Firehouse at the top of Russian Hill in San Francisco, with a "summer recess" of July and August. There are refreshments and beverages in a short social before the meetings, and valet parking for members and invited guests.

Membership requirements for joining The SASSF do not require an extensive documented pedigree back to a particular ancestor who left Scotland at a particular date, and are simply stated on their website as "members are persons of Scottish birth or descent". Bona fide interest in the society, and its activities and events, is of primary importance. Its current leadership also recognizes that Scots-Irish are also "of Scottish descent", that a very large part of the early U.S. population were Scots and Scots-Irish immigrants, and that modern DNA tests are pretty helpful and reliable in confirming the stories that parents and grandparents might have told about having Scottish ancestors.

Since "two members in good standing (must be) proposing and seconding the applicant", it is helpful to come and meet members of the Society at a few events, and to get to know them a little before applying for full membership in this organization. The SASSF maintains a hospitality and information booth at the San Francisco Caledonian Club Gathering and Games on the Labor Day Weekend at the Alameda County Fairgounds in Pleasanton, and a few other events. Members and officers are usually in attendance at other Celtic events.

For full Details The SASSF, Click Here.


Review of the United Irish Cultural Center

A Place for all things Irish

2700 45th Avenue (at Sloat Boulevard) San Francisco CA 94116

The United Irish Cultural Center of San Francisco, Inc. (UICC) is a California nonprofit corporation built and organized to provide its members and their guests with beautiful dining and banquet facilities for social, recreational, athletic and cultural activities. Just three short blocks from Ocean Beach, and just accross Sloat from the San Francisco Zoo, the UICC has provided these services to the Irish, Irish-American and related communities in San Francisco since 1973. Last year, UICC reorganized and is now a IRS 501c3 tax-exempt organization, so all dues and donations are tax-deductable, and we hear they are planning some Capital improvements soon.

Facilities include full service restaurant, bar and lounge, catering kitchens, a comprehensive library, and several meeting rooms. There is a small stage area and dance floor in the bar area, and a large stage in the HUGH St. Patrick Ballroom and St. Francis Rooms where the UICC hosts many functions.

Nearby attractions include the San Francisco Zoo, Harding Park Public Golf Course, Lake Merced Recreational Facility, Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. There is a small parking lot behind the center and abundant on-street parking--a rarity in San Francisco. It's also a lot easier, and less stressful, to drive to the UICC than to many other destinations in San Francisco.

Our personal experience with the UICC restaurant is that the mix of traditional and California styles is quite good, and we recommend the Prime Rib dinner and Shrimp Louie salad in particular. The prices are reasonable and the service is excellent. The staff has been are very kind to us older persons who have smaller appetites and slowing metabolisms and they have allow us to share larger meals. On the first Saturday of every month is the Saturday evening Session of local and regional amateur to professional Irish music musicians in the bar area from 7:00 to 10:30 PM. It makes for a very nice and lively evening when combined with dinner in the adjacent restaurant.

The UICC currently has over 800 members, but welcomes more, from among Irish immigrants and Americans of Irish descent, or mixed descent with some Irish who are interested in enjoying the facilities and the many programs and activities the UICC offers. In recent years, the UICC has employed Donagh McKeown as Membership and Events Director and he has introduced a number of new social activities, and regular arts and cultural performances, and live music every Friday and Saturday evening.

The UICC also supports the Irish Literary and Historical Society (ILHS), and Irish dancing, regularly host Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) functions and they have the Leo T. Walsh scholarships, and the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center of San Francisco to provide various forms of assistance as needed to Irish students and recent immigrants. The Pastoral Center was instrumental in organizing the support for the students and their families who were affected by the 2015 balcony collapse in Berkeley, which killed several students and seriously injured others.

For more information, check the website or call 415-661-2700.