A mural on the Falls Rd in Belfast

An extraordinary speech by a retired Irish emigrant to Britain was the highlight of the opening session of the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin, attended by 250 delegates from all over the world.

Mary Higgins recalled "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish" signs when she reached London in 1960. She was a trained nurse who had received a warm welcome in Glasgow when she first moved there from County Galway.

However, when she arrived in London she found a very different atmosphere.

She recalled being afraid to speak on public transport and being threatened when people heard her Irish accent. She said it was particularly bad after IRA bombings.

“We were told to keep our heads down and don't talk,” she remembered.

The greatest thing that happened to the Irish in England was the peace process, she said.

She said the Queens visit to Ireland last year and her acknowledgement of the Irish in Britain was one of the happiest days of her life.

Since retiring she has helped with the Forgotten Irish programme, funded by the Irish government, which helps elderly Irish in need.

She told the crowd there are massive issues among Irish emigrants in their 1960s and 70s who were growing old in Britain after years of exploitation on construction sites.

She described one emigrant they found living under a highway underpass who was destitute and illiterate. The program found him a home for the first time in his life.

The new era of Irish helping out those abroad was vital, she said.

"We always thought we were on our own but now we know otherwise," she said, referring to the Irish government's help.

Her speech was a highlight of the opening session as she wowed the businessmen and women gathered for a global conference.

The era of "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish" is over but it should never be forgotten, she told the crowd.

To forget the past is to be condemned to repeat it.