In Paris, just a stone’s throw from the Panthéon, the Centre Culturel Irlandais (Irish Cultural Center) has been promoting Irish culture in Paris for over 20 years. Free and open to all, it’s a cultural venue not to be missed!
And it’s no coincidence that Paris is home to this flagship of Irish culture in Europe. Its presence in France is the legacy of centuries of cultural exchange between France and Ireland.
What is the history of the Centre Culturel Irlandais? What can you see there? How do you get there?.. A closer look at a place that deserves to be better known!
The Irish and Paris, a long (hi)story
Since 2002, the Centre Culturel Irlandais has been housed in the historic Collège des Irlandais building, a landmark of Irish culture in Europe whose creation was no accident.
From the 6th century onwards, many Irish monks travelled throughout Europe as teachers, missionaries or simple pilgrims, but it was especially from the 16th century onwards that numerous student communities sprang up across the continent. At that time, an anti-Catholic movement in Ireland prompted Catholic monks and students to migrate to Europe in search of an education. Irish colleges sprang up in France, Spain, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands. The one in Paris was the largest collegiate community abroad.
In 1623, Louis XIII allowed the community to raise funds, and in 1677, Louis XIV granted the Collège des Irlandais its first permanent residence by allocating them the Collège des Lombards on rue des Carmes, which became the gathering place for Irish students in Paris. This was the Collège’s golden age, and it produced some particularly well-educated students and priests who went on to play an influential role in religious, public and cultural life back in Ireland.
In 1776, Irish secular and religious students settled in rue du Cheval Vert, but two years later, during the Revolution, the Collège des Irlandais was confiscated as national property. At the same time, anti-Catholic laws were repealed in Ireland and Irish Catholic students were once again able to study in their own country. Paris lost its status as a preferred destination.
In 1805, Napoleon merged the Irish, English and Scottish colleges to form the Collège des Irlandais, and in 1807, rue du Cheval Vert was renamed rue des Irlandais.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the College once again welcomed Irish students, served as a hospital for wounded soldiers from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, as a refuge for the American army in 1945 and as a Polish seminary between 1945 and 1997.
The birth of the Centre Culturel Irlandais
In the early 2000s, the Irish government financed major restoration work on the building, with the aim of making it a “showcase for Ireland and its contemporary culture at the heart of Europe”. This is how the Centre Culturel Irlandais de Paris came into being in 2002.
The Centre is managed by an Irish Foundation whose board of directors is made up of 7 French members appointed by the French government and 7 Irish members appointed by the Irish ambassador to France.
The former seminary rooms have been converted into 45 residences to accommodate students, researchers and artists right in the heart of Paris, while the rest of the building houses the Centre’s cultural activities.
What to see at the Centre Culturel Irlandais
The Centre Culturel Irlandais can be visited for its heritage interest as well as for its rich cultural programme. Here is an overview of what awaits you:
The Centre regularly organises exhibitions that are open to the public. You can currently discover :
- “1798, the Year of the French” celebrates the 225th anniversary of the Year of the French in Ireland, when troops from the French Republic landed in County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland, to support the Irish rebellion in its fight for independence.
- LACUNA, an exhibition by artist Kate Nolan, looks at the physical and psychological impact of the partition of Ireland on young people living near the border.
The chapel is dedicated to Saint Patrick! The chapel features a number of distinctive Irish symbols, including the 3-leaf clover ☘️.
The chapel is open to the public on weekday afternoons.
Along with the Chapel, the Library is the other heritage jewel of the Centre Culturel Irlandais. It dates back to 1775, when the building was still a seminary.
The library preserves some 8,000 early works written or published between the 15th and 19th centuries, focusing on theology, history, geography, philosophy and music. Some of these are particularly remarkable, containing engravings, illuminations, maps, etc.
More than 200 of these books have been digitised and can be consulted online here:
Visits to the heritage library are by appointment only.
The media center
The media center at the Centre Culturel Irlandais is a fantastic source of information on contemporary Ireland. Some 18,000 documents (books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, etc.) can be consulted freely.
Monday to Friday, 2pm to 6pm
Late-night opening on Wednesdays until 8pm
Closed at weekends, on public holidays and during the Christmas holidays
Cultural events throughout the year
The Centre also offers a wide range of events, with a rich programme of concerts, theatre, dance and meetings with artists.
You can view the current programme and book your tickets here:
The Irish Cultural Centre at a distance
If you don’t live in Paris, the Centre Culturel Irlandais can also be discovered online thanks to numerous podcasts, videos and online exhibitions.
Centre Culturel Irlandais
5 rue des Irlandais
Exhibition opening times:
Every day from 2pm to 6pm
Nocturne on Wednesdays until 8pm
Closed on public holidays and during the Christmas holidays
Media center opening times:
Monday to Friday, 2pm to 6pm and until 8pm on Wednesdays
Closed on public holidays and during the Christmas holidays
Many thanks to Carole Jacquet for inviting me to discover the Centre Culturel Irlandais