Ciara Kenny

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Celebrating Irishness in the ‘33rd county’

Liverpool Irish Festival marks impact immigrants from across the water have had on the city

A screening of Five Fables, an animated set of stories by the late Seamus Heaney narrated by Billy Connolly will be one of the highlights of the Liverpool Irish Festival this year.

Wed, Oct 22, 2014, 18:15

   

Declan McSweeney

As a port city, Liverpool has been home to generations of Irish migrants since the days of the Great Famine, and is often known as the “33rd county” or the “real capital of Ireland”.

I recently started working in Liverpool, where I had previously lived for two years, but will be back and forth to Manchester where my family are. I have found its people to be extremely well disposed to the Irish, and there is a genuine warmth when they hear an Irish accent.

Liverpool is certainly a Celtic city on English soil, with an estimated 50 to 75 per cent of the population having some Irish roots, in addition to the significant inputs of the Scots and those who migrated the short distance from Wales.

The impact of the Irish on the city’s accent and its sense of humour is palpable. All over Liverpool, there are reminders of hard times, from the famine memorial at the bombed-out church at Leece Street to the workhouse at Brownlow Hill and the paupers’ graveyard at Mulkerry Street, or the memorial to ten Catholic priests at St Patrick’s Church, who died helping famine victims.

There are also reminders of others who helped their compatriots. Donegal nurse Agnes Jones is commemorated in a window at the Anglican cathedral, while the adjacent cemetery is the location of the grave of Kitty Wilkinson, who saved the lives of hundreds by increasing awareness of hand washing.

Women like them are a reminder that the Irish community in the city was never entirely a Catholic one, and many Protestants, and indeed Jews and Muslims in Liverpool claim Irish ancestry.

The manner in which the city, despite an earlier pattern of sectarianism, has overcome such old animosities and built a largely harmonious society is something I find exemplary.

From this week until Sunday November 2nd, the annual Irish Festival takes place. A wide range of musical events, ranging from traditional céilís to a fundraiser for Irish Community Care Merseyside should please all sections of the Irish community, but arguably the most notable event of the week will be the presentation of Five Fables, an animated set of stories by the late Seamus Heaney and narrated by Billy Connolly this Sunday.

Given the year that is in it, it is hardly surprising Irish veterans of the first World War will be remembered at a lecture at the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool on Saturday, with a separate talk on wartime censorship at the Lantern Theatre the previous day.

The Museum of Liverpool hosts a family celebration with Irish food this Saturday, while the Bluecoat will be the venue next Wednesday for an event to mark the golden jubilee of the foundation of Irish Community Care Merseyside, at which the guest of honour will be Irish ambassador Dan Mulhall.

Well-known Irish visitors to the city during the week will include poet Paul Durcan and Cork singer Jimmy Crowley, as well as Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin.

Director Laura Naylor has ensured the focus is on contemporary Irish culture as much as traditional. Bands such as Moxie, The Gloaming and We Banjo 3 are also in town, while an event will celebrate Irish electronica at Sefton Park Palm House with Shit Robot, Boxcutter and Sertone.

Whiskey tasting events, commemorations of Samuel Beckett and Sean O Faoláin, historical walks and sports events hosted by Wolfe Tone GAA Club, are among other features of the programme. See liverpoolirishfestival.com