- What were you hoping to find in London that sent you over here?
I moved to London in 1983 after a five-year spell in Scotland – I was lured by a better job with a much-improved salary. I moved to a flat in Hammersmith, one of the Irish strongholds in London, so it was a bit like living in Ireland of yesteryear but with all the benefits of being based in a great multicultural city. I suppose you could say I was an economic migrant – Ireland held little possibilities for employment and career at the time. The Thatcher years had created a strong work ethic driven mainly by individual gain and jobs were plentiful and well rewarded if you were prepared to work hard.
- Give us one anecdote that illustrates what it’s like to be Irish in
Its difficult to give one specific example, as publisher of The Irish Post and the annual Irish in Britain Business Directory I see all aspects of the Irish community in London. Those who arrived in the late 60s bore the brunt of stereotypical attitudes and discrimination. While many have now settled and have children and grandchildren there are still large numbers of vulnerable elderly Irish people, many single males, who have suffered significantly from physical and mental ill health because of their experiences. On the other hand we conducted a survey in recent years and discovered that the wave of Irish professionals who arrived in the 1980s are disproportionately represented in top jobs in London-based companies. Unlike the Irish in the USA for instance who are proud to be called Irish American, because of the shared history between the two countries you rarely hear anyone describe themselves as Irish British. But you are more likely to find that Irish people are more comfortable being associated with the city they live in rather than the country as a whole – hence the enormous following for the great London Irish Rugby team! In 2002 we jointly organised with the Mayor of London the first St Patrick’s Day Festival in the capital – it was held in Trafalgar Square. The venue was very significant as up until recently it was written into the byelaws of Trafalgar Square that no Irish gathering was to be held there – nor was an Irish flag to fly. It was incredibly to see tens of thousands of people in the Square on March 17 with as many Irish flags waving and the Dubliners and Mary Coughlan singing to the crowds. We ended up closing many of the main roads in West London and had to close the Square off very shortly after opening because of the enormous crowds that showed up. That simply never would have happened before now – Irish people in London have a new found confidence and pride and are comfortable celebrating their national day with the whole of London.
- Do you think the Irish and the English get on? Provide examples to
Support your case
The relationship between the two countries is complex and its difficult to generalise. The settled Irish community in Britain would count many English people among their friends and associates. Certainly in terms of business, both countries have benefited from a new more mature relationship and we rely on one another enormously for trade. Where the relationship becomes complex and fragile is in terms of what Britain as a country represents in a historical context. In recent decades the experience of Irish people living in London or other major English cities has been influenced heavily by the Troubles – particularly in areas such as Birmingham, Warrington and London. The Irish Post campaigned for the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four way before other newspapers picked up on those miscarriages of justice. In recent years it has been vociferous in campaigning and promoting the peace process in Northern Ireland reflecting a new more positive era for the two countries.
Norah Casey, CEO, Smurfit Communications (GB & Ireland)
Smurfit Communications (GB) – publishes the weekly newspaper The Irish Post, The Irish in Britain Business Yearbook, Ri-Ra – a monthly magazines aimed at the young Irish in London, organises The Mayor’s St Patrick’s Day Festival and the annual Irish British Business Partnership Lunch.