I was five when my family swapped South Dublin for South London in the late 1980’s. I became an emigrant and an immigrant in the space of one day. I had no connection to London, but it was a good place for a kid even an immigrant kid.
We weren’t a GAA family, and most of the Irish organisations seemed quite far away in Kilburn or Cricklewood. My local library had three Irish related books, a George Best bio, a book on the Great Famine and a city guide to Dublin. The closest I got to being part of an Irish community was having the odd Club Orange and pack of Tayto in an Irish pub.
Through my school years I met many Irish people who like myself took personal strength from our identity. I remember borrowing tapes of ‘rebel’ songs from school friends. The Wolfe Tones and Christy Moore were often our teachers. We listened, learned and shared them between us covertly as it seemed almost criminal to listen to or discuss Irish culture and history in the 90’s.
I am pleased to see London has become more accepting of displays of Irish culture since then. Artists like Damien Dempsey regularly perform Irish stories and songs to large crowds across London.
London is a great city as well as a lonely city. We shouldn’t be afraid to use the network of Irish organizations in place. Many men and women who have emigrated since the 1950’s have worked hard to build them knowing we may need them.