Taylor triumphs where Ray and Philomena sang
LONDON LETTER:It was to those lost Irish of impoverished decades that Katie Taylor’s glittering London moment spoke most clearly, writes KEITH DUGGAN
NEIGHBOURHOODS DISAPPEAR. When Paddy Barnes won his bronze medal on Wednesday night, you could still hear the Irish whoops of delight in the pubs along Cricklewood Broadway. But the cheering was so faint that it sounded ghostly.
For 60 years, the famous strip between Kilburn and the Crown pub was unquestionably the one mile of London that could be said to belong to the Irish.
Over 20 years ago, a bunch of us spent a summer there: we were 17 and couldn’t be trusted to cross the road safely, let alone navigate this vast imperious city. And for thousands of young Irish men and women who moved to London not just for summers but for life, Cricklewood made the transition a bit less intimidating and strange.
If you have never seen the Crown bar, then it is worth the visit: a palatial Victorian red-brick vision set back from the Broadway: it looked regal in the heart of the endlessly busy street choc-a-bloc with cafés and fruit stalls and pubs and cafes that advertised bacon and cabbage and roast chicken specials on pink and yellow cardboard, cut into stars and pasted onto the windows.
From dawn until dusk, the Broadway was teeming with Irish accents from every county. It was in the Crown pub that we watched David O’Leary wrap his penalty across Silviu Lung in the 1990 World Cup. The place was heaving and the drinking heavy.
What I most remember about the Crown and McGovern’s of Kilburn were the Thursday evenings when weekly cheques were cashed. The queues to the hatch went on for hours. The drinking was of the most consequential kind: steady and endless. All the pubs used to serve huge meat-and-two-veg dinners at such inexpensive prices that it felt like charity.
In their whirlwind tour of London over the last fortnight, it is unlikely that David Cameron and Boris Johnson found the time to pay a visit to Cricklewood to see how the Olympics are faring there. Beneath all the optimism and sunshine and brilliant stories which have lit these games, there is a bit of a debate going on in England. A few notable commentators have noted their quiet discomfort at the slightly delirious glorying in good old Great Britain’s success.
The most explicit objection came, predictably enough, from Morrissey, another emigrant son of Ireland and former frontman with The Smiths. Old Moz decried England as being “foul with patriotism!” during these Olympics and blasted the “blustering jingoism” that went with it. Maybe it was. But what has been striking about London over the past fortnight are not the Union Jacks, but the sheer happiness and relief that these Olympics have been a success. It is a measure of just how far GB’s confidence and esteem has fallen: from the Empire where the sun never sets to a nation that didn’t truly believe it could successfully run a very big sports tournament.