Our current Irish Centre is 21 Years old this month. In this article, however, I am looking back to when the ‘Old Irish Centre’ at Mount Pleasant was 25 years old and there was produced for the occasion a commemorative 25 years’ anniversary brochure (priced £1.50). I give you just a taste of what was going on then, and what had happened in the first quarter century of the Old Irish Centre.
The first picture shows the front of the Centre, the Wellington rooms. You will note that the people visiting would not appear to be Irish. They look suspiciously like English gentlemen. The building was however named after an Irishman, the Duke of Wellington, who spent his early years in Dublin and Meath.
Inside the cover was a message from the Taoiseach Charles Haughey and, more importantly, from the Chairman of the Centre, the great fiddle player, Sean MacNamara. The latter paid tribute to the people who had made it all possible: ‘The dreams and ambitions of the group of people who worked so hard in the 60s to establish a Centre, have been realized and exceeded beyond measure in this fine building, and in all the activities and great events that have taken place in the first twenty five years of its existence.’
The brochure was the work of the ‘Silver Jubilee Brochure Committee’ which included M Bolger, T Walsh, S Foley, F Veltom and R Wilkie. The first main item was the story of the Centre with pictures such as Bridie Ryan and the new shop which was opened in 1986 by Kevin Rush from the Irish Embassy; the mass for St Patrick’s day concelebrated by Bishop Kevin O’ Connor and eight Irish priests; and a picture of something we don’t have these days, the Irish Centre choir with Joe McNally and Peg Atkins.
Canon Michael O’Connor gave a full page account of the formal opening on 1 February 1965, St Brigid’s day, marked by a dinner where the menu was Scampi, Turtle soup, and Duckling orange Bavarois. In declaring the Centre open Mr Frank Aitken of the Irish government said of the Centre: ‘It is the most beautiful I have seen anywhere.’
There are articles on the opening of the Metropolitan Cathedral, the next door neighbours, and the grave of Percy French, as well as lots of information and history about the various groups who used the Centre, including Finn Harps football club, Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann , John Mitchels Gaelic Football club, and the Irish Centre Welfare, which had by then become Irish Community Care, still going strong now.
Of course the Old Irish Centre is not going strong and before the 90s were out, the Wellington Rooms had closed and St Michael’s Irish Centre had opened.
So this is a document of great historical interest (not least in recording, from the Minutes of the Committee, the death of Kathleen Clarke, a member of the Centre and the widow of Tom Clarke, one of the signatories of the Proclamation) and one we can learn from. It shows that some things were done bigger and better then in an iconic and beautiful building. But we can also take heart from and pride in the achievements of the Centre we now have as it comes of age.
Two things stand out from the text in the brochure, which resonate for us today. The Lord Mayor at the formal opening in February 1965 noted the beauty of the building but said ‘it was not through architecture that (we) could build a community spirit, but rather through the comradeship and friendship that could be derived from it.’ Secondly in concluding the brochure entitled ‘The Irish Centre Today’, the manager Phil Farrelly talked of the ‘void’, many Irish people having returned home, and when emigration recommenced, London having become the destination of choice.
Thirty years later the Liverpool Irish Centre continues to provide a meeting place and so much more for many people.
At the foot of the last page there is a plea to ‘Start Writing’ and I reiterate that. Perhaps we could have a brochure brimming with good stories for the 25th birthday of the Liverpool Irish Centre mark II.
If anybody would like a copy of the 1990 souvenir brochure let us know by contacting Maureen Morrison. It will be a reproduction, not an original. It features many interesting articles and some great photos of the likes of Joe England, Deirdre Doran and Breege McDaid, as well as some of the great characters no longer with us like Tommy Walsh, Maureen Bolger, Nick Redmond and Chris Johnson. There will be no charge but a donation would be appreciated.
22 May 2020
Maureen Morrison can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org