MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — St. Patrick’s Day hits close to home for many people across the state, especially in St. Paul.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to an Irish heritage center unlike any other in the Midwest.

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In the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul you’ll find a little piece of Ireland at a place called Celtic Junction Arts Center. There’s culture, there’s music and of course, there’s the River Dance. It’s where the feet seemingly defy physics and the body has to keep moving.”

“It’s a kin to what I always call it: the 800 meters. It’s not a straight-out the fastest you can go, but it’s really quick for a sustained period of time,” said Cormac O’Se.

Cormac grew up dancing in Dublin, Ireland. At one point he was even an understudy to Lord of the Dance legend Michael Flatley. Cormac married his wife Natalie and moved to St. Paul, but he didn’t leave Dublin behind. Twelve years ago the couple took a leap of faith and opened Celtic Junction.

“Our friends told us we were crazy. It’s 2009 and there’s a recession. You would be mad to do that. We said, OK, we are crazy then. And we did it anyway,” said Natalie.

They literally hit the ground dancing.

“The demand for that has just exceeded any of our expectations,” said Cormac.

Pre-pandemic, 500 people a week would walk through the center and they’d produce up to 50 concerts a year. Their daughter Adrienne is one of the top dancers and musicians — often performing with her father. But like everyone else they’ve gone virtual, for now. In one video they combined three recordings-of a keyboardist in Canada, a band in studio, and then lastly, they recorded dancers performing in front of the other videos.

The luck of the Irish has nothing to do with this. It’s technology and determination.

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“The Irish band would come out and everyone would be dancing like crazy. I want to do that! You know,” said Brian Miller.

Brian and his wife work and play at the center. He is also the library director. Brian has catalogued about 5,000 donated books with Irish authors like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. But it’s the history of the Irish in Minnesota that fascinates him the most. That includes lumberjacks from the Motherland.

“You might think of a lumberjack or a railroad worker as a gruff character and here they had all these beautiful songs,” said Brian.

Beyond the music many Irish immigrants came to Minnesota during the potato famine. Led by Archbishop John Ireland, they had a hand in building the State Capitol, the St. Paul Cathedral and universities.

“A lot of the sisters that were Irish nuns founded the educational centers,” said Natalie.

Natalie and Cormac are looking to keep that education going with a new lesson: you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the culture.

“It started with just that little spark and it’s grown into this gorgeous fire. Where people can come and warm themselves in what that Irish culture is from anywhere,” Natalie said.

“It’s in their hearts. They know they are welcome to come here,” said Cormac.

Celtic Junction also teaches Gaelic for those looking to learn the language.

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For more information on their classes, concerts, and outreach, click here.

John Lauritsen