Irish in London live in isolation from each other
ANALYSIS:The Irish in Britain are not a single community but a collection of communities, often with little in common
In the 1970s the wealthy Irish in London went to the Irish Club on Eaton Square or the Irish Embassy in Grosvenor Place, while the remainder went to the Irish Centre in Camden or, more likely, pubs in Cricklewood.
The embassy’s guest list has since broadened significantly but not much else has changed. If anything, the arrival of a new generation of young, mostly well-educated Irish has accentuated the differences that exist.
The observation of Mike McGing, head of the Brent Irish Advisory Service, that the Irish who have done well in Britain have not done enough to help those who have not is not unusual. What is unusual is saying publicly what others say only privately.
The criticism of the lack of philanthropy by the wealthy Irish in Britain is well made, even if some philanthropy takes place outside the glare of publicity. Nowhere, however, does it match the mutual help offered, for example, by the Jewish community in London.
“The Irish community live in silos: we’re all in our own little boxes, with little connection between them,” says one figure who adds that the very quarters that most need to widen their web of connections are the ones singularly ill-equipped to do so.
The struggles waged by Jim O’Hara and many others in Hammersmith over the last two years to save the Irish Cultural Centre are a case in point. In the end it was seed money from the Irish Government, not local generosity, that gave it a fighting chance of success.
The latest generation of emigrants is linked to the wider community through the GAA, if the emigrants are interested in it, though there seems little else that would bring them into frequent contact with longer-established residents.
Often the Irish community does itself few favours, promoting a language of victimisation whereby problems that affect everyone in London – such as crucifyingly expensive accommodation – are interpreted as a problem seemingly for the Irish alone.
In recent years, however, the Irish in business in London, in particular, have learned the need to network, developing the Irish International Business Network for entrepreneurs and the London Irish Business Society for the financial sector.
The LIBN’s unofficial motto is: “All things being equal, the Irish guy gets the deal”. It has not always been so in a city where the greatest exploiters of the Irish were often their own. Now the Irish in Britain who have done well need to do more for those without.