The Irish are back in London
Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2010 at 06:56 AM
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Several times during a trip there last week they asked me if I was relocating, saying they have had lots of pick-ups from the airport of Irish people who were.
London remains one of the first stops for potential emigrants, and with the Irish economy on the slide there is no doubt that many are indeed arriving.
I worked in London in the early 1970s for a year and found it a very depressing place to be Irish at that time.
With IRA bombing campaigns going on, it was clear there was an unspoken antipathy to the Irish, understandable in many ways.
That, thankfully, is now gone, hopefully forever.
However, the length of The Troubles meant that the Irish community in London was never able to step out front in the way it did in America.
They were, rather, the equivalents of the Germans in America who kept low profiles after the two World Wars. But that has now changed.
Not for the first time London has become a safety valve for Irish social problems. But the Irish coming now are encountering a much better welcome.
The powers-that-be in Ireland are probably glad to see them leave, despite platitudes to the contrary.
The Irish unemployed might get shirty and start protesting, a la France and Greece, but if they are on a Ryanair flight to London they won’t get that opportunity.
I visited Kilburn High Road, and the new Irish presence is definitely being felt.
This patch of North London has always been the equivalent of the Bronx for Irish first coming to America, a first port of call. And with the Irish sailing again, Kilburn on a Saturday night looks like it is booming.
The faces are all young. The stories are familiar and would be to any generation of Irish.
The brief Irish boom has been followed by a thundering bust, and from Malahide to Mayo the siren call of emigration once more is heard.
The Irish Post newspaper, which has been the bastion of the Irish community since 1970, is reflecting those new changes too.
The Post is a remarkable newspaper.
Its founder, the late great, Brendan Mac Lua, stood up for the Irish during the worst of The Troubles. And his newspaper became a powerful voice in cases such as the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, miscarriages of justice against innocent Irish that were widely condemned.
Current news editor Siobhan Breathnach says the impact of Mac Lua has lasted. There will be a census in Britain which for the first time will ask the question about Irish ethnicity -- a pet project of the Post.
It will be fascinating, not just for the numbers of Irish-born but also the numbers who are British who relate to their Irish ancestry.
While it will not be as large, percentage wise, as Americans who claim Irish ancestry, it will provide an invaluable insight into how the Irish influence has lasted down the generations of the British.
There are obvious examples – rock star Shane MacGowan and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who credited his Irish grandmother, from Co. Donegal, with much of his empathy for the issue.
But there are millions of others too, who will now have the opportunity to state their claim to a heritage that was long hidden.
It will make for very interesting reading.
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