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.

30 year old journalist thing. Buys loo roll on eBay.

reasons to be cheerful