Ciara Kenny

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

Door-to-Door project captures stories of Irish in London

Group of Mind Yourself volunteers are collecting personal histories from Irish people of all ages

Mon, May 26, 2014, 11:30


Bairbre Meade

I sat scribbling at the edge of the table while the two people talked. The older gentleman spoke about the fear, danger and horrors of his time in London, when he arrived in the 70s.

It was a complete shock to me that this was caused by other Irish people. I was entirely unaware that a rivalry between counties existed on the construction sites. I’d heard of signs stating “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” but no one had ever mentioned pubs where only one county was welcome and outsiders were beaten – a gang war, a jostling for jobs, looking after your own. He told us he could see why we were banned, why the police lay waiting outside the pubs ready to pounce at closing time.

Of course there are lots of sides to that story, that’s what we’re trying to capture. The stories of the Irish in London. Not from one era, or one theme – the many varied anecdotes of people starting a new life for love, careers, education, adventure and necessity.

We began the Door-to-Door project in March last year. Claire, one of the volunteers with Mind Yourself, a charity concerned with the wellbeing of the Irish in London, was interested in the stories of a nation of storytellers. Mind Yourself hold various events and workshops, run by volunteers, and she was eager to run a workshop that would create a performance from the tales of the Irish immigrant. With my degree in dramaturgy I was taken on board to help with the editing. Two things became immediately obvious: Some members were not comfortable with performance, and that everyone had a different, interesting story to tell.

So we amended the workshop to focus on writing instead.

By the end of our six weeks we had a collection of works, some autobiographical, some biographical and some fiction. Each Tuesday we had worked with our group on expression and accessing creativity, and listened, edited, laughed and cried. On our last week we invited friends to hear the pieces. That day Claire turned to us and said “I think there’s more to be done, I just think there are so many of us over here, waiting to be heard.”

We started thinking of different ways to capture the stories, ways of inviting people in to tell their personal narrative. We focused on casting as wide a net as possible and using as many media as we could.

Through the Door-to-Door project, we’ve captured written, typed, audio, video, literal, abstract and any anything else you can think of. The idea is to create a resource to hear the stories of the Irish in London and to share them.

As this is run by Mind Yourself, the focus is on the benefit to the individual, not the end product. There is an option on our website about to share but not publish. If all you want is to tell, write or email in your story – that’s absolutely fine. Most people choose to share their stories. They are published on the site ready to be read, and looked at and listened to.

There is still so much work to be done, and we have lots of plans for the future – different workshops and projects to run, more tales to tell and histories to hear. We want them all; happy stories, of cheerful memories and great times as well as stories that are hard to tell and a relief to share.

Every story, each one, creates a shared story, the story of the Irish in London.

For more information, see Bairbre Meade previously shared her experience of feeling isolated in a strange new city when she arrived first in London with Generation Emigration.