As Irish emigration to London rose in the last century, Kilburn in the northwest of the city was dubbed the “33rd county”. The Catholic Church on Quex road, the boarding houses around the area, and the pubs and local shops, became safe enclaves for workers trying to build a new life. Nights out could be spent in the Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood, another area which emerged as a hive for the Irish. To the north of the capital, Luton attracted a substantial Irish community as people travelled to work in the Vauxhall, Bedford and Chrysler car factories which were then at their peak.
Now, the idea of set areas where the Irish congregate has long since evaporated. Irish accents abound in the streets of Clapham, while green jerseys fill the pubs of Finsbury Park and Hackney during the Six Nations.
More likely to be in professional positions across the city than their predecessors, Irish emigrants now set up home in every corner of the densely populated city. We asked some of them what they like about the area they live in in London.
Forty-four-year-old public-affairs consultant from Dublin, living in Covent Garden
“I have been living in Covent Garden for the last eight years. It is right in the centre of the capital and is a hive for tourists. I love living so centrally — it is not every local square that has opera singers busking in it. Being in the heart of theatre and museum land means there is no excuse for boredom on any day of the week. And with Westminster on the doorstep, there’s never a dull moment. It is one of the most recognisable tourist districts in the country and the visitors on the streets can be overwhelming, but it is possible to escape to the banks of the Thames or a local park when it all gets too much.
“What most will not see is the large, strong neighbourhood community that really came into its own during the pandemic. Morning and afternoon coffee meeting ups spots were set up to let people to come together at various parts of the day. I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne and grew up in Dublin and have been fortunate to live in Paris, Brussels and Sydney, but it is London that I keep coming back to. I’ve lived north in Muswell Hill and south of the river in Earlsfield, but Covent Garden really is magical. Each day I discover new hidden spots — on a balmy summer’s evening or under the sparkling Christmas lights. And for those who think it would be cripplingly expensive, I find it cheaper than living in Dublin.”
Thirty-nine-year-old NHS social worker from Malahide, living in Walthamstow
“When we were expecting our second child, we were living in Camden and wanted to upsize our home and heard great things about Walthamstow in northeast London. It is at the end of the Victoria line and is not too far from the centre of town — you can get anywhere around the city very quickly, while an enormous forest is a short walk away.
“I think what attracted us to Walthamstow is that it has a history and it’s a place in its own right that has been around for a very long time. It’s not a new town that was created just to house people. It has a town centre and a church that has a history. You can say that you’re from Walthamstow and that would make sense. You could have a town and an identity. I come from a town in Ireland that had quite a bit of history to it and I thought that was important in anchoring ourselves.
“We didn’t have any family in London so we wanted somewhere that we could find a way of attaching to. But we also liked the diversity in the area. If your kid doesn’t like football, he can do ballet or hockey — there are endless options. You can just be whoever you want to be. I also like the style of housing — the street that we live on has housing association apartments, it has people who’ve lived in their home for 50 odd years, it has got new couples and I quite like that variety.”
Thirty-two-year-old dog-grooming teacher from Dún Laoghaire, living in Balham
“Many Irish who move to London end up in the Clapham area in south London. Balham is very close by and you can regularly hear Irish accents about the place. I ended up here because my partner loved it and when I moved here seven years ago, I also fell in love with the area. It has a very distinct charm to it from the people, the shops and local businesses. The transport links are very good with the Northern line and the train — you can be in central London in less than half an hour.
“At the same time, there are lots of outdoor spaces and you are close to Tooting Common and Wandsworth Common. The time since I have moved to London has flown and I do occasionally miss Ireland, but it’s not long before you hear an Irish accent outside the door around here.”
Fifty-four, works for a precious-metals recycling company, from Co Cavan, living in Greenford
“The London Borough of Ealing is supposed to be the greenest suburb of London with many parks and open spaces. I’ve lived in the borough since coming to London in 1987. I have lived in my current house for 20 years. It backs on to Perivale Park and Golf Course and having grown up on a farm in Ireland, I love the sense of space and openness when I look out the back window. I’m in a great location for getting into central London, which is only 20 minutes by train, and a 15-minute drive along the A40 takes me out into the countryside. I’m only 20 minutes from Heathrow airport which is great for visiting family in Ireland.
“The downsides? Greenford High street has a disappointing array of shops and restaurants so I would normally go to Ealing to socialise, which is a short drive or bus/train ride. I think I’d like to move further out of London when I retire and there will be two important criteria about where I move to — it must be within in an hour of an airport and the house must back on to green open space.”
Forty-four-year-old editorial director from Cork city, living in Tufnell Park, Islington
“I’ve pretty much lived in the same part of London since I first came here for university, barring a couple of student years in Hackney, further east. Islington has a — justified — reputation for being the home of the liberal left. It’s very much used as shorthand for “metropolitan elite” by right-wing media and politicians, including Boris Johnson, who, of course, lived in the borough before he became prime minister. My part of Islington, Tufnell Park, is a very mixed neighbourhood — we have Hollywood stars living next door to council estates.
“It’s historically an Irish area and during the summer you will see second and third generation London-Irish people wearing the colours of their “home” counties. My partner is from the north of England, and this is very much her corner of London too — the Holloway Road, which dominates the area, is the main route to the north. When our first child arrived we didn’t for a moment contemplate a move to the suburbs — Tufnell Park is a wonderful place for kids, with dozens of playgrounds, excellent council-run nurseries and easy access to magnificent semi-wild spaces such as Hampstead Heath and Highgate Wood. And of course, there is Arsenal Football club, the universal language of Islingtonians. When they’re doing well, the buzz on the streets is palpable.”
Forty-four-year-old community neurophysiotherapist from Dalkey, living in New Malden
“It was about eight years ago when we were looking to buy a house in fashionable areas like Kingston and Surbiton that we stumbled upon New Malden. It is a less well known location but a hidden gem in the south of the city with good primary schools, lovely parks as well as easy access to Richmond Park, Oxshott Woods and Wimbledon.
“My husband can cycle to work in London Bridge in an hour and I can get to work in 20 minutes while taking the train means you can get to Waterloo in 30 minutes. It has a lovely sense of community and is home to the largest Korean population in Europe, meaning there are any number of great restaurants on the high street. I miss being close to the sea as I grew up on the coast in Dublin but New Malden has made us very happy in London.”
- We would like to know where you believe is the best area to live in London. And why you think it is a suitable place to live. Let us know in the form below. Some of the submissions will be published in the Abroad section in The Irish Times. Thank you.