LONDON: London’s mayor Sadiq Khan remember his father talking about the “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” signs in windows after his father emigrated from Pakistan.
He took a job as a train driver and the family lived in a council house, the working class British equivalent of a trailer home. His wife took a job as a seamstress. Their son Sadiq, went out working from the age of 12 with a newspaper round. He grew up to be Mayor of London, Europe’s greatest city.
I wish all the Muslim haters had been present at the posh Grosvenor House Hotel in London when 1,100 Irish gathered at the Irish Post Newspaper and website awards on Friday night. Just a few decades ago the Irish would have been lucky to be waiters at the Grosvenor House. Now they were occupying the grand ballroom.
Khan spoke to them as immigrant sons and daughters, like himself, he connected with a room full of immigrant strivers, doers, and second-generation Irish in Britain, free at last to celebrate their heritage after the peace process.
Even the Italian ambassador was there, but strangely no sign of his Irish counterpart or any representative of the Irish government. Someone is asleep at the wheel.
What is happening in Britain is truly extraordinary. Since taking over the Irish Post five years ago, Elgin Loane, the publisher and his dedicated staff have transformed the community and forced then anew to measure their successes and failures.
The annual Irish Post event has become the very essence of the fabric of the community as they celebrate their heroes.
It is community building at its finest, making it clear that Irish heritage is a badge of honor in a country where once that was far from the case. The Irish Post is certainly lighting the way for the Irish throughout Britain.
The heroes turned out in style. Martin O'Neill Irish soccer manager who showed along with assistant manager Roy Keane displayed how much the award meant to him emotionally remarking how it had very deep significance.
The biggest cheer of the night, however, was not for O’Neill or the London Mayor but an amazing woman called Agnes Forde 93, who came to London in 1947 and settled in Greenwich where she became the lynchpin and heart and soul of the Irish community there for almost 70 years.
She talked about how lonely she was when she came in 1947 alone to Britain and how she longed for someone to talk to her and a friendly face. Now she tries to ensure that generations of arriving emigrants do not face that problem.
Also honored was a truly extraordinary woman named Susan Whelan from Dublin, CEO of the Leicester Football Club, yes that club that won the English premiership last year even though the odds against it offered by bookmakers were 5,000/1 at the start of the season.
In a massive man’s world Susan Whelan called all the shots right including the inspired hiring of manager Claudio Ranieri, widely thought to be over the top
Shane Ritchie an “Eastenders” star and famous comedian and actor spoke passionately about his Irish parents, stating how his Irish heritage had inspired him as a young man to rebuild connections to the Emerald Isle .
Tearfully, he stated how meaningful the award would be for his late father to see.
The late Terry Wogan was also honored and deservedly so. He was a hugely successful radio host on the BBC for what seemed like generations and inspired many Irish to try their luck in Britain. It was heartwarming to hear the crowd’s deafening reception as his daughter accepted on his behalf.
There was lots of glitz too, with Hollywood star Fionnula Flanagan and dance legend Michael Flatley and wife Niamh who were there. Flatley brought along a “Lord of the Dance” troupe who had the attendees spell bound with their performance.
All in all, a terrific night and personally worth cutting Thanksgiving short for and flying overnight to London. As Mayor Khan stated, the Irish can lead the way in how an ethnic group can transform its fortunes with hard work and commitment.
The theme that discrimination does not work is a lesson we need to heed today.