Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Irish Culture Night comes to Britain

To celebrate the ways we showcase our Irish identity through the arts, the Irish community in Britain will be bringing Irish Culture Night to London, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool this Friday, writes Fiona Smith of the Federation of Irish Societies.

Mon, Sep 17, 2012, 01:00

   

To celebrate the ways we showcase our Irish identity through the arts, the Irish community in Britain will be bringing  Irish Culture Night to London, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool this Friday, writes Fiona Smith of the Federation of Irish Societies. 

Fiona Smith

My Uncle Fintan once worked as the gardener at the Chester Beatty Library, before it moved from Shrewsbury Road to its current home at Dublin Castle.  I often imagine him peering in the large windows of the house, seeing hundreds of exotic things from hundreds of exotic places.

Perhaps it is this connection, but as a teenager discovering Dublin, the Chester Beatty was my favourite museum; a kind of a cosy, soft place, dark, smelling of books and cloth – full of a sense of home and the city itself, which is funny as there is very little in Chester Beatty’s primary collections that have their origins in Ireland. Throughout the 20th Century, he travelled far and was a transient soul, spending time in Egypt, China and Japan, but it was in Kensington Gardens in London where he traded, gathered and developed the majority of the collection that is now housed in Dublin.

Living in London for the past year, the collection resonates with me once more. There has always been a huge arts trade between Ireland and Britain and Beatty is just one of thousands who over the centuries have connected Britain and Ireland through arts and culture. Irish artists, actors, musicians, writers, makers, and creators have always come to here to cut their teeth, break their leg and find their voice. And of course arts, culture and sport have always been ways for Irish communities in Britain to celebrate their heritage, come together and connect with each other.

In the last number of years more and more young Irish people are coming to Britain for cultural work, for new inspiration and to develop their practice. Working with the largest Irish network in Britain in my role as cultural campaign coordinator at the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS), I am constantly coming into contact with both emerging and established Irish people who are looking to find their way in the vast cultural scene here, while retaining their Irish identity.

Since beginning my role last October, I have been overwhelmed by the array of talent, energy and innovation emerging from the Irish scene right across Britain.  Young artists arrive daily – some to design for Fashion Week or cross the boards at The National. There are also those who want to connect with the established Irish and see this diverse community in Britain as an inspiring place to hone their skills and develop their artistic identity.

Working with Irish communities in Britain I have come to understand that our culture means many things here. It is the huge St Patrick’s Day celebrations with giant green hats, fluffy shamrocks and everyone being Irish for the day. It is familiar voices heard across the radio and TV stations. For a newly arriving generation it is the comfort of the local GAA clubhouse and a run out on a Sunday morning. Successive generations add to the mix and bring their own voices which add yet another chapter to the story of being Irish in Britain.

To celebrate all of the ways we showcase our Irish identity through the arts, on the 21st September this year, alongside our partners, we will be bringing the wonderful Culture Night initiative to Britain with events happening in London, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool. From a traditional Céilí band in Tyneside to a DJ set in Shoreditch Irish culture here has many faces – traditional and contemporary, familiar and edgy. Just as in Ireland, the events will be free and a chance to celebrate Ireland’s cultural contribution to Britain. Full details of the events can be found here.

Over the last year, my role with FIS and my time in London has given me the chance to discover new museums, new collections and new places in this big, brash, energetic place. I suppose I’m a little like my Uncle Fintan, looking in the window seeing what’s on offer, perhaps though, always returning to the garden.

Since March this year, FIS have been running Ireland Inspires, a cultural campaign which celebrates the contribution of Irish culture in Britain. To find out more about the campaign and sign up for updates visit www.irelandinspires.me.uk.

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