Five years after a 3,000-pound bell went crashing through the former church it calls home, the Maine Irish Heritage Center, is running at full speed and preparing for a fundraiser that will help it stay that way.

The center will hold its second annual silent-live auction beginning at 5 p.m. today. Last year, the center raised $18,000 for building upkeep and the goal is to exceed that this year, said Mary McAleney, chairwoman of the center’s board.

The organization has been housed in the former St. Dominic’s Catholic Church at the corner of State and Gray streets in Portland since 2002.

It took $1.2 million in repairs to fix the damage caused when the one-and-a-half ton bell crashed from the tower into the former church below on May 8, 2006.

The Patriot’s Day storm caused more damage a year later, adding to the repair list.

But McAleney said the center has completely recovered and now has a full slate of activities year-round.

In addition to Irish dance and language classes, the center hosts lectures, an indoor winter farmer’s market, and pipe band practices, among other events.

She said the center hopes to live up to its name as a statewide organization by expanding outreach to all Mainers of Irish descent, or others interested in Irish culture.

For instance, she said the center has a growing genealogy center for those looking for family links with the old sod, but those who find it hard to get to Portland can send questions or information to [email protected]

The center also has a website listing events at

McAleney said items being offered up during the silent auction include storytelling workshops for children, an Irish trip-planning session and gift certificates from area businesses and restaurants.

The live auction begins at 7:30 p.m., with bidding on items such as a ride on the Portland fireboat, a visit to the top of Portland Head Light, bagpiper services and golf passes.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]