Ahead of tomorrow’s St Patrick’s Day parade, I spoke to Chris O’Malley, the Director of the Irish Arts Foundation about South Leeds’ Irish community.
March is Irish History Month. I asked why we need an Irish History Month, Chris explained:
“It was inspired by Black History Month. Like black history, Irish history is not mentioned or understood in Britain. It’s better now, but when I went to school there was no mention of Irish history in school. Ireland is the nearest country to Britain, we’ve had a relationship for centuries, millennia, but no mention at school.
“Irish History Month has plenty of music and cultural events, but we also have lectures and debates. We’ve also been into schools including St Anthony’s Primary in Beeston.”
After the Second World War most Irish people coming to Leeds moves to Harehills, but in the 1960s a growing number were living in Hunslet and Beeston.
The Catholic Church was at the centre of community life. Apart from Mass there were dances in the church halls at St Francis and St Anthony’s. The other focus was the pubs and clubs especially The Imperial, The Spinning Wheel and the Tommy Wass. Sports took place at the Hunslet Club and there was Gaelic Football practice in Cross Flatts Park.
The Irish Club on York Road has been at the centre of the Leeds Irish community for many years. As well as being a social venue, children would go to learn traditional Irish music and Irish dancing.
Compared to the Asian community, Irish people faced less discrimination and quickly started inter-marrying into the indigenous British community. Chris thinks the community has diminished in recent years as people have followed the usual trajectory of immigrant communities: starting in cheap inner city areas, getting established, succeeding and moving out to the suburbs. Added to this, many older people have moved back to Ireland as they’ve reached retirement.
We are halfway through the month but there are still events to catch including a Traditional Irish Music Session at The Grove pub in Holbeck on Saturday 23rd from 2:00pm. The St Patrick’s Day Parade leaves Cookridge Street at 11:00am on Sunday 17th and is followed by celebrations in Millennium Square and at the Irish Centre.
Full details of all the events are available on the Irish History Month website.