Taylor triumphs where Ray and Philomena sang
These have been a dreamlike two weeks for the Brits and when he is old and grey, David Cameron might well reflect that they were as close as he ever got to seeing his Big Society. London has pulsed with goodwill and happiness. It has been friendly. It has been great. So much of English sport is caught up in disappointment and serial blame and retribution that the uncomplicated success of the British athletes have taken the public aback. They can’t get enough of it.
Minutes before Katie Taylor fought in the boxing arena on Thursday afternoon, England’s Nicola Adams become the first ever woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing. Like Taylor, the Leeds woman has a brilliant story and handles herself with class.
The Irish crowd cheered for her in her fight but as soon as if was over they just wanted to see Taylor. They sang The Fields of Athenry as the ring was set up for Adam’s gold-medal ceremony, and for a few minutes, the place was alive with the possibility of God Save Our Queen and the line about Trevelyn’s corn being sung in the same place at the same time. Thankfully, they gave hushed up, but the Brits in the arena were just as enthralled with Katie Taylor as the Irish fans. Everyone was on their feet at the end. By 6pm on Thursday, Taylor must have felt like the most famous woman in London.
Katie Taylor was born in 1986, when the Irish drift towards London and other cities was still thick. Cricklewood Broadway was as crowded that year as it had ever been.
So it was a shock to see just how much had vanished in the space of 20 years. The green neon sign for the Galtymore ballroom, where Ray and Philomena sang, is gone and the ballroom with it. For 60 years, it had been the Saturday night portal: you paid your fee, stepped in and were transported back to the dance halls and night clubs of wherever you came from. The cafés serving the Full Irish all day long have been replaced by sparkling coffee joints and wonderful looking Sri Lankan and Persian restaurants now dominate the long mile walk up to Kilburn.
McGoverns of Kilburn, too, is gone: it has become a stylised American dive bar. The Crown is still there but it has become part of a sleek hotel in whose lobby you could hear accents from all over Europe. It is hard to argue that the strip hasn’t changed for the better.