Passing of an era?

images-14High drama, a fracas, history, culture, high finance and property dealings and maybe a little bit of tragedy were featured at the Special General Meeting of the Celtic Club, held on the night of 15th August to discuss the future direction of the Club. The Management Committee of the Club had convened the meeting to endorse its decision to sell its present iconic – but shabby and run-down – premises on the corner of Queen and Latrobe Streets in the Melbourne CBD. Management argued that the sale of the property would enable the Club to clear its debts and house the Club elsewhere as an on-going, viable and vibrant entity in the cultural life of the Australian-Irish community and the Irish diaspora. But would the membership embrace such a radical idea and agree to such a move? Has not the Queen St building been the site of The Celtic Club since its inception, 125 years ago? Didn’t the edifice itself store the tears of exiles blending with their pints of Guinness? And had there been shenanigans behind the scenes concerning the sale, as suggested by the Paddyleaks website? Selling it, and by implication its repository of culture, history and heritage, would surely be a travesty.

Except the Club has only been on its present site since 1959 and only owned the entirety of the current premises since 1993. Several options to rebuild the Club (the façade is heritage listed) or even refurbish it (an increasingly critical necessity) have been extensively explored but proved to be financially unviable. To continue as is, without refurbishment, minimal maintenance, a very large debt and falling revenues would seem to be sheer folly. Offloading this rather large green elephant and moving on, looked like an attractive proposition to the Management Committee. But would the membership agree? Tensions began to rise before the meeting began, as a person, not a member, insisted on remaining at the meeting.  She also took photographs without permission and began her own tape-recording of the proceedings. The Committee were faced with the tough choice of tolerating her or throwing her out.  They opted for tolerance, but although the meek may inherit the earth, they don’t always win debates. At the start of the meeting three things became very clear.

i.         The majority of the Members present were, in fact, quite happy to support the Committee’s decision;

ii.         a minority – led by a one-eyed leader straight out of Kerry myth – were vehemently opposed to the proposal and well versed in the art of filibuster;

iii.         It was going to be a long night.

Points of order, references to breaches of the Club’s constitution and of the ‘Act’, (The Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012), heckling, long winded questions and accusations of corruption were all handled with grace, courtesy, hard facts, expert knowledge, good humour and tolerance by the Chairman and the Committee. Many of those opposed to the sale, clearly confused the selling of the bricks and mortar with the sale of the Club itself.  In one memorable speech, it was implied that the sale of the Club could be equated to the sale of the heritage of ‘Mise Eire’ – ‘I am Ireland‘ . Those opposed to the sale had no suggestions as to how to deal with the Club’s significant debts and the difficulties in attracting new members.  Few speakers were well versed in the art of of keeping their points within the five minutes allotted them to speak and the hour grew ever later. In an inspired moment, the Chairman pointed out that those present were free to vote at any time even before the speakers had finished. Most then cast a vote (on emerald green ballot cards) and availed themselves of the Club’s more usual services while the remnant of those opposed to the motion talked on to an increasingly empty hall.

But was there a small unspecified tragedy taking place? Conflict has been part of the warp and woof of the Club, from its earliest days. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, such conflict reflected the deep political divisions of Irish politics of the time. Later conflicts took on more local divisiveness. But it’s been a long time since Irish or any other politics, have dominated the discourse at the Club.  Now, members and non-members alike are welcome to eat, drink, join in the live music and cultural events and generally enjoy the craic.

But should we be mourning the imminent decline of a sub-culture, where to be ‘Irish’ in Australia was to have a distinctive, cultural and ultimately personal identity. Were the vehement, filibustering dissenters at the Special General Meeting endeavouring to stem the tide of change, a change that would deprive them of their Aussie/Irish persona? For the Irish/Catholic-Australian cultural identity has all but vanished. We are all Anglo-Celts now. Did they intuitively perceive that this could be the passing of an era, that a Celtic Club of the future would be no place for the demographic of old Irish Paddies?

However, despite the mood of the meeting, the motion for the sale was not carried. Requiring a two-thirds  majority it was narrowly defeated 61.19% against 38.81% of the membership present. The President of the Club, Seamus Moloughney and the Committee of Management have vowed to ‘continue to work in the best interest of the Club’s members and look to secure the Club’s future’. The Committee will also ‘look for ways to engage the membership in deciding the next steps in the club’s future’. President’s Letter 20th Aug The passing of an era may have been postponed – for a while.

Liz McKenzie and Felicity Allen
Tinteán Editorial Team