London has long been a home-from-home for many Irish people. The UK capital, home to more residents than the entire island of Ireland, has been the destination of choice for many decades — attracting labourers, medical professionals, marketing and sales professionals, artists and everything in between.
Recently, Shane Hickey talked to some Irish people living in London about the area of the city they live in and what they like about it. Below, readers — some recent arrivals and some who have spent most of their lives in London — give their views on the city.
“I moved to Essex nine years ago at 18 years old, met my now fiancé a year later, and have lived around Havering, East London since. We have really settled in Upminster as it is close enough to the Canary Wharf to commute for work, but still has access to lovely parks and country walks. The area has something for everyone with nice cafés and restaurants. We are also close to Romford and Hornchurch for pubs & clubs.
“Most importantly for us, Upminster is perfect for raising our four-year-old son with good schools and a nice community feel, especially in the park opposite the high street. Though very different to west Waterford where I grew up (and miss dearly), I feel happy here in Upminster and excited by the opportunities London holds for my son growing up.”
“I have lived in London for 17 years. I am a physiotherapist and came here in my early 20s to study at King’s College London. Originally from Rush, Co Dublin, I now live in Carshalton, which is in the Borough of Sutton, with my husband and two young children.
“I lived in north-west London as a student, but since then have lived in south-west London near Clapham/Battersea. We bought in Carshalton due to its affordability and location. Carshalton has a great community feel with lots of green spaces and easy access to the beautiful picturesque South Downs, but also less than 30 minutes by train to central London where you can avail of all the central London attractions which are so great for both adults and children.”
“I have lived in Kensington since I first arrived in London in September, 1970. My choice of location was influenced by the fact that some of my pals from Trinity College were renting in Kensington and kindly provided a sofa bed while I gained my LRAM (Royal Academy of Music) Teacher’s Diploma in singing — my main reason for visiting London. I had been teaching languages in a Dublin school, but very much wanted to have a singing career and burned my boats in Ireland to give it a try.
“I had office jobs for three years before joining Ward Swingle’s new group Swingle II in 1973 — and since then I have earned my living as a professional singer in many different areas of music.
“I shared my tiny ‘country cottage in the air’ with flatmates for about seven years, and just after my final flatmate left to get married I was offered the option of buying my flat — two rooms plus bathroom on the fourth floor of a Victorian Stately Pile for £6,000. As a freelance singer the word ‘mortgage’ terrified me, but I signed on the dotted line and became a home owner.
“In subsequent years I also became the freeholder — slightly accidentally — in order to take the roof off and add a fifth floor. Still no lift, but now I have a delightful bright and airy sitting room and kitchen with south-facing balcony. The stairs make a serious impression on most of my visitors — 91 steps to the kitchen — but I adore my flat and feel lucky to have settled accidentally in such a beautiful area.
“I am surrounded by elegant garden squares, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are a 10-minute walk away and I can be in central London in 15 minutes by tube or bus. When Covid happened I was thrilled to see how my neighbourhood came together to make sure nobody was isolated and local services were maintained.
“London is very much a collection of villages which have gradually ceased to be separate and become part of the whole — but each one has retained its own special character. Mine is Kensington and I love it.”
“Based on the river Thames, Marlow in Buckinghamshire (about 50km west of central London) is a stone’s throw from Heathrow and has some of the best restaurants in England. Its high street reminds me a little of Malahide and it’s full of young families with ample schools. Also next door to Windsor! Lots of Irish accents.”
“I lived in Cricklewood in North London in the mid 1980s for five years. The area was entirely Irish at the time, with people from all parts of Ireland there. It was a big shock to me at first, arriving there in 1984 I had never been out of the Donegal before that — apart from one or two trips to Dublin.
“Over the next 26 years I moved to various parts of the city — Finsbury Park, Edmonton, Enfield and Dartford for a while. It was a great experience, not that every day was easy, but I gained so much by it, and I’m so glad that I done it. I came home in 2009, retrained and now work in Donegal.”
“I’ve lived in Hackney since moving here almost two years ago. Currently living in Dalston, it’s a great place to be in your late 20s. Notoriously well connected, it’s home to a bustling nightlife and restaurant scene, and close to many parks (Clissold, London Fields, etc), which are a mainstay of London summer.
“I’ve noticed a flight to North East London over the last while, with friends moving north from Clapham, etc, and even from friends who couldn’t move to Australia and Canada due to the pandemic. Rent seems on a par with Dublin, but you get a lot more by way of career progression and socialising potential. It’s certainly good for now.”
“I’m a retired publican living in Cockfosters, a very proud Irish woman who has loved my life living in London for the past 50 years. After the busy adventures of the pub business, Cockfosters has everything I now need — great restaurants and every local shop you could wish for. It’s close to the tube, 40 minutes into town and right beside the wonderful Trent Park, with a great mix of youth, middle and seniors.”
“Tooting is very vibrant. It is highly residential with plenty of places to eat out, shops galore, supermarkets, and we also have the famous Tooting market. We are 20 minutes from central London on the Northern Line. Tooting is very cosmopolitan. I love the fact that I can walk from one end to the other yet nobody would notice me.
“There are a spattering of Irish pubs around Tooting, including The Ramble Inn, The Mayfair and, a short walk away, Tir Na Nog. A short hop from Tooting, there is an Irish centre in Wimbledon, and Ganley’s Irish Bar in Morden. It can be difficult to ‘feel at home’ here in London but I do feel comfortable in Tooting.”
“I only lived in London for nine months before moving to Dublin, but it had everything one could want. Amazing green space, courtesy of Crystal Palace park; great restaurants and bars in the “triangle”; direct trains to the city centre; beautiful Victorian terraces and new apartments. And some of the best views over London from Sydenham Hill.”
“I’ve pretty much lived in the same part of London since moving here full-time nearly five years ago. I live in West Norwood, in the London Borough of Lambeth. It is a less well-known location, but a hidden gem, with a range of local cafes, restaurants and pubs.
“The transport links are excellent. I work in Farringdon and it takes me less than an hour to get to the office. There is a direct train to Victoria and London Bridge. Dulwich is close by and is so beautiful, as well as Brixton, which is always buzzing.”
“My girlfriend and I (24 & 23) have spent the last year living in the Aldgate/Whitechapel area of East London (Tower Hamlets). Firstly, being in zone 1, where we live was about as well connected as you could imagine — the value of this cannot be understated. The East End is a beautiful place for young people to live, a place of wonderful contrasts, where deep-rooted international communities, full of tradition live side-by-side and are interspersed with trendy up-and-coming hotspots, exuding youthful energy. In my opinion, the East End has (almost) the best of everything — great cuisine (Som Saa, Gloria’s, Padella, Laphet), a great nightlife (see Shoreditch), and a top-notch shopping experience (Brick Lane, Spitalfields Market), all with fewer tourists and lower prices than West London.
“And, while it’s true, there is no real sense of somewhere this close to the centre of London being an Irish outpost, I think you move to a place like this for exactly that reason, sometimes.”
“I’m 35 and living in London for the past 10 years. Originally from Malahide, I met my now husband here and we moved to Fulham a year ago, having lived in Notting Hill previously, and now here we love the residential feel and the river beside us. Fulham has a great neighbourhood vibe and yet is just 30 minutes to central London.
“There are great river walks with pubs to explore. I miss the sea at home, but Fulham has so much charm we see ourselves here for the foreseeable future.”
“I’m from Kerry and Cathy, my wife, is from Cork, and we moved to London about four years ago in search of jobs in the arts, as we both studied Fine Art in Limerick and Belfast. I work as an art gallery technician for an auction house in Mayfair and Cathy works as co-ordinator for an arts charity in Liverpool Street.
“We have lived in Ealing since arriving and, as we really enjoy living here, we have never thought about moving to try another area. Ealing is a very green part of London, with loads of nice parks, one of which Walpole Park boasts some brilliant summer festivals which are great to have on your doorstep.
“As we both work in central London, decent transport links make life a lot easier here and Ealing has great links into the city. We know the west and north west of London in particular in the past had been dominated by Irish communities but that has changed.
“These days no matter where we go in London we bump into other Irish people because we are now much more spread out. We feel the Borough of Ealing does have a good amount of Irish living here, many of whom we meet and chat with in our local Irish bar, O’Brien’s, where you are guaranteed a beautiful pint of Guinness which of course is a huge plus in London.”
“When I first came to London I lived in Ealing. I met my husband in 1976 and moved to Cricklewood. I liked it there, but in 1994 we moved to Edgware. it was lovely then, but not now — it’s gone downhill.”
“Lots of people of Irish origin and lots of second generation Irish moved out west to the Ruislip area from Kilburn, Paddington, Cricklewood, etc. There are great pubs in Ruislip, and there’s also the GAA there. There is nothing nice about Kilburn anymore, which is a shame as it’s where I grew up and my Dad is still there at 87, as well as my sister and nephew.”
“London is a city made up of villages, which is evident from the stories shared. Each area having its own characteristics and attractions and all having excellent transport links. I think this is why people move but stay in the city.
“I’ve lived in Herne Hill for 25 years. It’s got all facilities that attract families and a couple that are unique. Herne Hill Velodrome which produces world class cyclists and Brockwell Lido. We have Dulwich Picture gallery and Brixton and Brixton Academy nearby and then some of the best museums, galleries, concert halls, theatres music venues and opera houses a short hop away by bus or train.
“It’s also easy to get into the countryside of Kent and Surrey from here. I do by bicycle most weekends, either on or offroad with one of the many cycling clubs dotted around South London. Cycling infrastructure has greatly improved in recent years, it is possible to get to parts of the city on quiet or traffic free routes. My children have had a great start in life here in Herne Hill with so many opportunities open to them.”
“Having moved to London in the mid-1980s I lived in various places of north and East London, but then settled in Tooting in south London in the early 2000s. I never really knew south London back then, but I moved south of the river as my then girlfriend (now wife, also Irish) lived in Brixton. Tooting and surrounding areas like Balham and Colliers Wood are great. Full of local shops, great pubs and independent coffee shops and cafes. We even have a fishmongers around the corner.
“Nearby Streatham has really come up in the last few years and all have great transport links. Tooting had a large Irish community back in the day and it’s great to see the next generations keep the ‘Irishness’ alive through some of the local pubs, churches, etc.”
“My Kiwi husband and I moved to London in 2012 with our then three-year-old daughter. My sister lives in Balham so I wanted to live in that general area. We opted for Wimbledon, just a couple of tube stops away from her and less than 20 minutes by train to Waterloo.
“It’s been a great place to raise our daughter with lovely parks, good schools and plenty to do. We have built up a great network of friends and are very happy. Wimbledon Common is beautiful and we are there several times a week with our dog. It’s like having the countryside on your doorstep and it feels like home.”
Dr Rosaleen O’Brien
“My parents lived near Plumstead Common (south-east London) from the late 1960s until their deaths in the 2000s. They migrated from Limerick and Donegal respectively, along with many of their siblings who lived nearby. My sister and I were born and grew up there in a small Victorian terrace next to Winns Common. I am surprised Plumstead does not get a mention as a densely populated Irish area. Lower Plumstead (down a very big hill!) was almost exclusively Irish — drawn to the church, St Patrick’s, and the primary school of the same name. There was an Irish deli too on the high street.
“It was one of the more deprived areas of London I guess, so more affordable for those starting out. Most people I knew were from Irish or other migrant families. The area profile has changed so much now, but I was really pleased to hear there are still pockets of London attracting new waves of Irish migrants. I followed in the family tradition and migrated elsewhere too (to Scotland).”
“I moved to London with two friends in June, 2021. Our friends recommended that we try south-west London and so we settled on “County Clapham” because of its Irish roots and the number of people we knew already living in the area.
“After a few weeks of searching we found a flat near Clapham Common. After moving in, we soon discovered to our amazement that not only was every flat in the building occupied by Irish expats, but we had even gone to college with several of them. The chances of this seemed so remote until we began hearing similar stories from others in the area. Every Irish person in south-west London has a story about moving in across the road from someone from home, or running into a childhood friend in the Swan in Stockwell. While moving away from Ireland only to be surrounded by Irish people may sound counter-intuitive, there’s something to be said for the comfort and familiarity of moving to an area where you can make connections so easily.
“A downside of south London can sometimes be its poor connections to public transport. However, Clapham, Balham and Tooting all benefit from easy access to the Northern Line. And while you might have to travel a bit further to get to your local football or hurling team, chances are you’ll never be making the journey alone.
“Ultimately, south-west London is a soft landing for the Irish moving abroad. Although the building we live in is not occupied exclusively by the Irish anymore and many friends have since moved to find cheaper accommodation in areas like Peckham and Lewisham, it still retains a feeling of home.”