Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Liverpool: Irish Community Care Merseyside

Irish journalist Declan McSweeney, who recently moved to Liverpool, visited the Irish Community Centre Merseyside and found that young Irish are returning in droves to a city with deep rooted Irish connections.

Thu, Jan 19, 2012, 09:15


Irish journalist Declan McSweeney, who recently moved to Liverpool, visited the Irish Community Centre Merseyside and found that young Irish are returning in droves to a city with deep rooted Irish connections.

LIVERPOOL has a long history of connections with Ireland, and has frequently been dubbed the ‘real capital of Ireland ‘. During the Celtic Tiger years, the flow of Irish to the city had greatly declined, but of late, the Irish have started to return.

According to Breege McDaid, director of Irish Community Care Merseyside (ICCM) and a native of a native of Buncrana in Co Donegal, this reflects both the recession in the Republic and people fleeing paramilitary threats in Northern Ireland.

There are also people with drug and alcohol addictions and other personal issues, who require a change of scene. A wide range of ages is found among the new arrivals.

The increase in recent months reflects the city’s relatively small size, the fact that Liverpool’s cost of living is considerably lower than the south of England, the good transport links with both parts of Ireland, and the strong Irish connection in the city.

ICCM has been in existence since the 1960s, originally in the old Irish Centre in Mount Pleasant. “After 1998 we found ourselves homeless, following the closure of the Irish Centre,” says Ms McDaid, who recalls that they were temporarily housed in the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.

From there they moved to Duke Street, before moving to the current offices in Dale Street last year, reflecting growing staff numbers. Ms McDaid, who has worked with ICCM since 1987, says they now have 17 staff, and cater for people of Irish birth or descent, including Irish Travellers, across Merseyside, west Cheshire and Wigan.

Stressing that those born in England of Irish descent are very much part of the scene, she says “We know what it’s like to be of Irish descent in the north-west.”

In addition to the young Irish, many of their clients include elderly people long domiciled in Merseyside, who may be in poor health and socially isolated.

Help is provided with regard to jobseeking, benefits, housing, health, personal safety and many other issues affecting those of Irish background.

ICCM also co-operates with the “Safe Home” project, based in Mayo, which assists elderly Irish to return to live in their native land.

The new offices were officially opened recently by the Irish Ambassador, Mr Bobby McDonagh, and the guests included Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Frank Prendergast.

The history of Liverpool’s Irish connections goes back centuries and there was already a large community before the huge influx during the years of the Great Famine of the 1840s.

McDaid points out that Liverpool’s role in helping the Irish at that time was reflected in the fact that the city was chosen as the venue for the 2011 Overseas Commemoration of the Great Irish Famine, attended by the Ambassador of Ireland and the  Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan.

McDaid points out that while Liverpool is home to many Irish who find themselves in difficult circumstances, there are also many Irish who have done well for themselves in the city. She is also conscious of the need to reach out to the many Irish students attending the city’s universities.

However, she adds that the current funding climate is difficult and will affect their ability to provide the level of service they would like.

Liverpool hosts significant numbers of third-level students from Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic.

While an estimated 75% of Liverpool’s population has some Irish ancestry, a notable feature of the port city has been the extent of intermarriage between the Irish and other ethnic groups. At the recent Irish Festival, local historian Mike Boyle spoke of the ties between the Irish and the Caribbean and African communities.

“At times the Irish were welcomed here, at times they encountered racism,” said McDaid, adding that the rich connected history between the Irish and other communities in Liverpool has lessons for the emerging multi-ethnic Ireland of today.

She cites the co-operation between ICCM and groups working with asylum-seekers and the Chinese community, and says “What we found very strongly was the similarity of experiences between the groups.”

Declan McSweeney is a journalist from Offaly who moved to Liverpool last summer. He has been overwhelmed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Merseyside, and says that Irish people coming to England should remember there is more to the country than London.

However, he feels there is a need for greater links between groups working with the Irish in London and those in other parts of England, so that migrants unable to get accommodation in the capital should be made aware that returning to Ireland is not their only option.

He adds that while job opportunities in Liverpool are poor, it is a good base to use while one is seeking employment.
Job Centres in the UK pay for the cost of travel to interviews, so if you live in Liverpool, you are by no means confined to looking for work in that area, they will pay the fare for  you to travel to London or Edinburgh for a job interview.