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A Few Words About Joe England and Tony Grimes

The Irish community in Liverpool has lost two great stalwarts in a short space of time: just before Christmas , Joe England, and Tony Grimes on the second day of the New Year. I knew both of these good men very well.

Joe was a committee member at the old Irish Centre on Mount Pleasant and there is a lovely picture of Joe, as Chair of the Centre, presenting a crystal gift to Fr Michael O’Connor on the occasion of his silver jubilee in Tommy Walsh’s book. It is so typically Joe: a great big beaming smile of joy and pride on his face.

Joe was also a committee member when the Centre opened in 1999 at St Michael’s, as it then was. He served as Vice-Chair and dispensed wisdom and kindness in equal measures, unfailingly courteous and unflappable. When he eventually stood down from active service the Committee made a presentation at an event, after the St Patrick’s mass I think it was. Somebody forgot to go to George Henry Lee’s for the vouchers so Joe was presented with an empty envelope. He clutched it with great tenacity throughout his speech of thanks which I remember to this day. He explained that after many years of travel he came to England and realized that throughout his journeys he found that he was most at home with Irish people, that they were his people, and that was the motivation for all the years he gave to the Irish community in Liverpool.

Joe was a good speaker and a genuine Irish raconteur so it was no surprise to me that he became a fixture in the pantomime cast year after year. His role was quite simple - he told the story. He introduced it and he summed it up at the end. He was our seanchaí. And he was really good. He told me that he had always wanted to be an actor. He could have been. He always knew his lines and he delivered them impeccably.

Like Joe, Tony was also a regular panto player but his starring role was to announce how much we had made over the three days of performances at the party afterwards. Sometimes the figures were as fanciful as the storyline. Tony served on the committee for many years, as treasurer for the last three, standing down from that role at the last AGM.

But his contribution and influence was far wider than the committee. Tony was involved in practically everything: he loved Gaelic games and had played for John Mitchels (he also played for Finn Harps) at the old Irish Centre of which he was very proud; in the last few years he was a major factor in starting the shed, for which he was a great advocate, he put in countless hours in the garden, and he started the food bank collection through his connection with Homebaked, another charity with whom we have a great relationship thanks to Tony. More than anybody Tony helped to revive Sunday afternoons in the bar. He saw it as his duty to go around and speak to people and make sure they were having a good time. He personified the warm Irish welcome.

A couple of years ago a young Irishman over for the weekend from Keady In Armagh was attacked in Liverpool and was in a serious condition in hospital. His family were looked after superbly by Tony in the traumatic days and weeks that followed. He was there for them in their time of need. Their immense gratitude to him was evident. What a great ambassador he was for the Liverpool Irish Centre. He made no fuss but made friends for the rest of his days.

Both Joe and Tony were great ones for a song. Tony helped to start the choir, singing his heart out every week and making lots of suggestions for songs. He befriended the thirty or so members of the choir and brought people together. He made it fun. Joe was always good for a song: he brought The Roads of Kildare and The Lonely Woods of Upton to the bar of the Irish Centre. At the end of the folk night he would lead us in The Soldier’s Song, in Irish of course. Tony made The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel his own personal anthem.

That is how I will remember them both, spreading joy and goodwill through their warmth and enthusiasm, their love for Ireland, smiling, singing. They will be joining the choirs of angels. They will be recalled over the years to come with much love at the Liverpool Irish Centre.

Patrick Gaul

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