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Knights of the Red Branch

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Posted by Jim Carroll on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at 07:04:01 :

I think that this is a germane subject in that it was over fifty years ago and dealt with our "ancestors" from Ireland. Unfortunately, it is a true story.

San Francisco has a thriving Irish community, and has had one since the 1840s - even before California became a U. S. Territory. These were the Irish, not the Scots Irish who settled on the East Coast and came mainly from Ulster. They were hard-working, and hard-drinking.

Soon after the 1906 great earthquake and fire an Irish community center was located at 7th and Mission streets. And, because of its location and the bent of the politicos (that is the bent arm of some heavy drinkers), it soon became a great gathering place for the mostly Irish. You could not understand all of the conversations as there were differing Ulster and Cork brogues, and they came from Connaght and Dublin, some came from San Francisco - new first generation Americans. It was the KRB Hall, or as it was properly known - the Knights of the Red Branch.

It was three or four stories tall and there was a thriving bar on each of the floors. The basement was the locus of the Sets. While it really couldn't be called ball-room dancing that took place on the second floor, but there was time for the Sets also. And sometimes they even played the "Days of the Kerry Dance."

There was generally at least one fight on those Friday and Saturday nights, but at least you would see the pugilists back there the next weekend, and maybe even that same evening hanging on to each other as they played the Soldier's Song. The sets seemed to bring together the disparate groups and soon the people from Dingle were talking to the Dubliners, and the men from Ulster were oggling the girls from Cork.

This went on for years. Until one day, an inquiring reporter looked into the KRB Hall and its history and found that no-one had ever applied for, nor was the Hall granted a liquor license - or let alone an entertainment license for all of the bands that played each weekend. Even in the free-for-all San Francisco, home of the Barbary Coast, this caused considerable stir, as you might imagine. Especially when it became known that the elite of San Francisco's fire fighters and policemen (grandpa was on that beat, Badge 199), regularly gathered there for libations. And there was the mayor, the county supervisors and the whole lot of those folk that made it a mandatory stopping place.

Perhaps it was because the place never closed during Prohibition and it was never in the thought process that they needed to get another license when liquor became legal again.

Well, as you might expect, it shut down and the era came to an end. But the hall actually moved out by the Zoo and it was called the Irish Cultural Center. And some say, very appropriately so - and you can take that whichever way you like: the Zoo or Irish Cultural Center. And they obtained the necessary licenses to operate.

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