The Fight to Keep an Irish Cultural Centre II

I’m grateful there’s been a great deal of interest, after my letter in yesterday’s Irish Times and post here, in what the Irish Cultural Centre is about and what makes it distinctive.

I’d wondered if I might provide a bit more detail, for those kind enough to be curious.

There’s a website devoted to Saving the Centre, explaining its fundraising efforts and the campaign to keep the doors open, and offering a bit more information for the curious.   (The Centre’s principal website is unfortunately down just at the moment because of a virus, but the Internet Wayback Machine has an archive from before it caught cold.)

In January 2010, the Hammersmith and Fulham Council extended until 2017 the Irish Cultural Centre’s lease on the building where the Centre has lived for the past ten years, but the Council reneged in June 2010—announcing it would now seek to sell the building in March 2012.  A petition urging it to honour its agreement attracted over 5,800 signatures, all from people local to the borough.  Sadly, this petition was ignored.  No fewer than 40 MPs co-sponsored an early-day motion in disgust.

As I understand it, the board of the Irish Cultural Centre are keen to purchase the freehold of their building, to secure it as a long-term asset for promoting Irish culture in London.  This means raising a large number of pennies very quickly from the Irish community—which is underway—and I’m eager to help give publicity to their efforts.

To put things in perspective, this is the only venue dedicated to Irish culture in Britain.  (Ask Google.)  It is not a pub, nor is it an Irish centre in the post ’50s style.  (There is, however, a separate organisation that rents rooms within the building from the ICC that provides advice to Irish people of all generations, a sort of Citizens’ Advice Bureau). The Irish Cultural Centre’s raison d’etre is separate and distinctive.

Earlier this year they hosted the London Irish Writers’ Festival in March, giving a platform to Joseph O’Connor, Fintan O’Toole, Michael D. Higgins and Diarmuid Ferriter.  They’ve given London audiences to Northern poets such as Derek Mahon, and members of all of the Northern parties.  They offer Irish language lessons for all levels; and searching, scholarly classes in Irish history. The Centre (I confess I was involved) worked together with the Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan to raise funds for Trócaire’s relief efforts in the wake of Pakistan’s floods.  Their work is with writers, musicians, storytellers, dancers, actors and actresses, schools, children in their summer camp and the mayor of London’s office (especially in relation to cultural activities around St Patrick’s day), to nurture awareness of Irish culture in London.  I strain to think where any of this would happen if not in Hammersmith.

I think a few commenters questioned why they are not raising funds in the Irish community; they are.  But Culture Ireland—an Irish state agency devoted to promoting arts (not tourism)—directed €5 mn to the States to fund a transient programme, when a permanent freehold asset could be secured here in London for less than half that amount.

And some of us, who’ve been volunteering evenings to raise pennies to rescue a cultural centre from a London council which did not keep faith, found that a bit galling.

It will require the help of a great many friends—and the piqued curiosity of many onlookers—for this Centre to continue to promote Irish culture in a city with which Ireland is inextricably intertwined, consistently drawing upon our island’s best talent from the fields of literature, dance, music, the visual arts, theatre and film.

After all, and especially now, it is not our ability to run a country well that forms the basis of our international reputation, but our outstanding volume and quality of creative output.

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  • Liam78

    “To put things in perspective, this is the only venue dedicated to Irish culture in Britain. (Ask Google.)”

    Try Google for the Irish World Heritage Centre – Manchester. The city has hosted the biggest St. Patricks Day parade after Dublin and New York until London saw the financial sense in promoting the day too. I’m all for the centre’s survival and wish it every success, just don’t undermine the hard work done in irish communities in other British cities.

  • Clearly I need to become a better Googler 🙂 Thanks Liam, point gratefully taken!

  • Speranza-II

    What would the world be without its Heros?Rome without her Romulus and Camillus.Greece without her Hercules and Achilles?England without her Arthur and Richard?
    Eire without her Fionn and Cuchulainns?-So asked the President of The Eire Oig Youth Society.

    What would Limerick be without her Seans,Cork without her Daltons,Connemara without its O’Connors?Indeed, what would Dublin be without its slums?London without its Irish?came the reply from the student.

  • Culture centres are projects for middle-class ideologists with too much time on their hands. Let’s not worry about cancer centres, the quality of our transport infrastructure, or investing in business, let’s concern ourselves with an Irish centre. Is an Irish culture centre a venue where Brit-haters congregate and pay homage to all things Oirish? Beyond belief.

  • Cynic2

    So its €2.5 m to but it but then how much to run? €250k pa? I repeat – if its that popular raise the money to pay for it – don’t expect the State to do everything

  • damon

    ”It will require the help of a great many friends …. to continue to promote Irish culture in a city with which Ireland is inextricably intertwined, consistently drawing upon our island’s best talent from the fields of literature, dance, music, the visual arts, theatre and film.”

    Fair enough for wanting to do that, I’m all for venues promoting culture, but …… as someone who grew up in London with Irish parents and now living in Northern Ireland, it does seem all a bit peripheral. Irish dance, music and films? Are Irish people in England really interested enough to go and see such stuff at a dedicated Irish centre? We never did as a family. There was a bit of an Irish scene at the church social club. Lots of drinking, and maybe a bit of music once in a long while.
    But litrature? Never. No Irish person I ever knew in London would have ever gone to to a literary event where Finton O’Toole was a speaker. That sounds much more of a Dublin 4 kind of thing, and we weren’t like that.
    Best of luck with it, but it really is a minority interest in my opinion. If you want Irish culture in Penge or Annerly there’s The Goldsmiths pub on Croydon Road for all your GAA and Celtic matches.
    I’d feel more sympathy right now for muslims trying to get permission and money to build a proper mosque in Belfast or Cork.

  • (Damon – err, quite off this topic, but I did a small piece touching on Muslims in the North a few years back, http://www.vcn.bc.ca/outlook/current_issue/Nov-Dec%2007/Flying%20Different.pdf. I was just Googling for it now and actually found the entire piece had been posted – not by me, mind – on StormFront. I haven’t quite yet worked out why.)

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    “So its €2.5 m to but it but then how much to run? €250k pa? I repeat – if its that popular raise the money to pay for it – don’t expect the State to do everything”

    Presumably your argument applies to Northern Ireland itself and not just cultural organisations?

  • granni trixie

    Attended a play in an Irish Centre in North London last year (Kilburn?). Was immediately put off when 2 guys in mufti and balaclavas were at the door to hand out the programmes!

    My expectations of the play were not realised however for the play embodied an interesting analysis of post GFA NI. for us there was also an added depth of meaning due to being held in a venue which had shades of 1950s ROI in an English setting. Interestingly we had to explain to the barman how to make hot whiskies (called for – it was pissing out of the heavens).

    Good luck with Hammersmith Centre.