Ciara Kenny

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

Irish in London gear up for Olympics

With the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games taking place in London today, Ciara Kenny spoke with Irish emigrants in the city to find out how they are getting involved.

Fri, Jul 27, 2012, 01:00


With the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games taking place in London today, Ciara Kenny spoke to Irish emigrants in the city to find out how they are getting involved.

LOCAL RESIDENT Deborah-Louise Grant: “ The area is very in vogue now, and the price of property and rents have gone way up”

Deborah-Louise Grant near her home in East London

I live beside Hackney Central Station, right in the heart of East London and two stops away from the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. This area is one of the most run down in the capital, and people were sceptical when London got the games that Stratford could ever be made to look presentable. It is an infamously ugly place, but the local councils have made a real effort to tidy up and the area looks much better now.

I own a one-bedroom flat in a local authority building, which was pretty shabby looking from the outside when I bought the place last year. The council have carried out a major facelift on the block, replacing all the old windows with double glazing and doing up the front. Each household is having about £18,000 worth of work done. The local authority tenants have had theirs paid for but leaseholders like me had to pay for it ourselves.

There was a time last Christmas when I was between jobs and I considered renting out my flat and moving back to Ireland for a while. I couldn’t believe the amount of rent the estate agent told me I could get for it. It is nice inside but Hackney is not the safest area in London and it is a council building. The area is very in vogue now, and the price of property and rents have gone way up.

I know a few people living around here who have been kicked out of their homes because their landlord wants to rent out the property as a short-term let while the Olympics are on, but the market seems to be saturated now.

The closer the games get the more anxious I become about the disruption. I commute to the opposite end of London for work every day, and I imagine there will be huge delays. There have been signs up for weeks around London warning about it, even suggesting that people could work from home. I don’t think anyone can know what to expect until the games actually start.

From a personal perspective, I have absolutely no interest in the games themselves, but as someone who has recently bought a home in East London it would be foolish of me to say I didn’t appreciate the value it has added to the area. Once they begin, I’m sure there will be a nice atmosphere too. Londoners are prone to cynicism so it will be good to see people proud of where they live and in a celebratory frame of mind.

VELODROME VENUE GENERAL MANAGER Neil Carney: “The opening ceremony is happening whether we are ready or not”

Neil Carney in the new basketball arena

I am the venue manager for the Velodrome and BMX track and the basketball arena in the Olympic Park. I have been in London for two years, commuting back and forth to my wife and children in Galway every weekend by combinations of plane, train, boat, bus and car.

The pressure is really on now, because the opening ceremony is happening whether we are ready or not. As venue manager I am responsible for the entire operation on site, ensuring that when we open the doors to the spectators and the media everything is ready and the events go smoothly and safely.

The Velodrome is a brand new purpose-built venue, which will be used for both elite and community track cycling events in the future. The BMX track is bespoke-built for the games, but it will have to be scaled down after they are over as there are very few atheletes in the world who would be able to use it as it is at the moment.

We’ve been working 6am til late for the last few weeks while the atheletes were training, and we’ll be on site from morning to night for the 16 days of the Olympic Games and 10 days of the Paralympics after that. This is not a nine to five job, but it is a very exciting one.

It will be lovely for me to come back to London again in a year or two, hopefully on holiday rather than to work, to see the place still operating and knowing I contributed to it.

I have a big red circle on my calendar around the 7th October when I am due to fly back to Galway. Hopefully my next job will be a little closer to home.

OLYMPIC PARK ELECTRICIAN Jerry Howe: “It was more than just another job to me”

Jerry Howe

Working on the Olympic Park site was my first London job when I arrived here last summer. I had been living in Bristol for a year with my girlfriend, who was finishing her degree. We were thinking of going back to Cork but there was no work there, so we said we would give London a try as we have friends here and I knew someone who was organising the recruitment of workers for the Olympic sites.

I’m an electrician, so I worked for four months on the wiring for the Eton Manor sports hall which will host the wheelchair tennis event during the Paralympics. It will also be used for drug testing during the main events.

I really enjoyed working in the Olympic Park. There were hundreds of other Irish construction guys working in all areas, and there was a great atmosphere around the site. It is a great thing to be able to say I worked on, both now and in the future. It was more than just another job to me.

I would have liked to have gone to a few of the events, but the tickets were really hard to come by. I’ll watch some of them on television and keep an eye out; some tickets might become available once everything kicks off.

SPORTS FAN Bryan O’Connell “The buzz around London at the moment is incredible”

One of the reasons I moved to London three years ago was that there is so much happening here sports-wise. There was a great sense of excitement even then that the Olympics was to be hosted here.

I’m going to the tennis on the Wimbledon courts this Sunday with a few Irish friends. I’ve always been interested in tennis but have never been able to get tickets for Wimbledon itself, so I’m really excited about it. Roger Federer is playing and there’s a few doubles matches on too. The tickets were £85 for the day which is quite expensive, but it is a once-off opportunity so I was happy to pay.

I’m going to take a few hours off work to watch the triathlon in Hyde Park on Tuesday 7th, which is an unticketed open air event. I’m hoping to see a few of the soccer games in Wembley too. I tried to get tickets for the women’s boxing to see Katie Taylor, but couldn’t get my hands on them. I’ll definitely be watching her matches on television though.

Our football club went on a pre-Olympic cruise on the Thames with about 400 other Irish people last weekend, and my Kiwi housemates have extended their visas by a couple of months so they could be here for the games. The buzz around London at the moment is incredible.

VOLUNTEER Annie Nolan: “ Volunteering at an event like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity”

Annie Nolan in her volunteer uniform

I decided when London won the bid for the Olympics that I wanted to be part of it. Volunteering at an event like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I work full time at the Bank of Ireland in London, where I’ve lived for 30 years, but am taking six days holidays to volunteer during the games. The bank gives one day off every year to do voluntary work in the local community, so I’ll use one of those days too.

I applied online to volunteer last year. My background is in customer service and I like driving, so I was placed as a driver on the transport team, which is one of the largest groups of vounteers. We’ve had lots of orientation and role-specific training since then, and I’ve already met lots of wonderful people from all walks of life. BMW are one of the Olympic sponsors and have provided the car fleet.

I’ll be based in Park Lane, which is the hub that will service the hotels, airports and Olympic venues. I’ll be driving members of the national and international Olympic committees, technical officials, members of the media, sponsors and marketing partners.

I’m really excited about the games now. I’m a huge sports fan and have tickets for the hockey, boxing and men’s beach volleyball.