Bringing the Irish together in London through culture

Working Abroad: Gary Dunne, director of arts and culture at the London Irish Centre

 

As an Irish artist and arts programmer, I have always been gripped by the capacity of art and culture to bring us together, to connect us to ourselves, to art and to each other. Whether it’s a song, a show, a film, a piece of visual art, we gather, we watch/listen, we connect.

This social and cultural connection, central to Ireland’s heritage and future, is the driving force behind my art and the cultural programmes which I direct. In fact, I “measure” art by the quality (and sometimes scale) of that connection.

This communion has also been at the heart of the work of The London Irish Centre (LIC) for over 60 years, where I am currently director of arts and culture.

Situated in Camden Town, for its proximity to Euston Station, into which the trains from Holyhead arrived and many Irish emigrants took their first steps on the streets of London, the LIC supports Irish community and culture in London through a diverse mix of projects.

To my mind, the LIC has always delivered two core things: support for Irish people in need and opportunities to share and experience Irish culture. Obviously, both the needs and the cultural interests change through the decades, but the vision and purpose remain constant. In fact, it was this model of culture, community and care that attracted me to the place.

Our historic rooms have hosted thousands of céilís, concerts, festivals, theatre productions, discussions and dances. In recent months alone, we’ve hosted The Abbey Theatre, Brendan Shine, Damien Dempsey, new Irish films, pensioners’ tea dances, book clubs and residences for Irish theatre makers. Here, in this diversity, the Irish in London gather and connect.

The same rooms have hosted christenings, weddings, social dances and wakes, offering a familiar, welcoming place for important community and social connection. Gathering, sharing, caring - community, culture, connection.

In recent years, the “Centre” has evolved into new online platforms, where tens of thousands of Irish people in London connect around our large online communities. The events we posts and information we provide have become new centres around which a community gathers and connects.

In offering these important activities, events and services, we are supported by the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme. Whether its our busy advice and outreach projects, our missing person services or our arts and culture work, this endorsement truly helps us to support and connect the Irish abroad.

Of course, our working environment is London, a global city, in which art, cultures and communities from every corner of the world meet, sometimes in collaboration, other times in a (culture) clash. We must have a strong voice and vision in this cultural mix. We must tell great stories about ourselves.

I feel honoured to lead a team which creates opportunities for the Irish in London, of all generations, to experience, create and celebrate Irish culture. We are equally excited to showcase world-leading Irish culture and creativity to London and its international inhabitants. Both aspects are about connection.

On connection, I want the LIC’s programme to be a social and cultural bridge between London and Ireland. A place where culture unites, new hybrid cultures are born, where art connects and where roots and relevance offer belonging. To me, this is “Irish culture”, in the wider sense, at its best. Global, proud, heterogeneous, inclusive.

Later this month, we will sow the seed for a new annual Irish Arts Festival in London. Céad, which runs from June 24th to 26th, is part of Culture Ireland’s International 1916 Centenary Programme, and will bring together some of Ireland’s most respected and creative artists with the vibrant community around our centre.

Over the three days, we will welcome Liam O’Maonlaí, New Airs (Glen Austin and the RTÉ Contempo Quartet), Ronan O’Snodaigh, Stephen James Smith, films from IFI International and much more. There will also be pop-up theatre, family arts, trad sessions, sing-songs, poetry, exhibitions and workshops.

In this curated mix, we will gather and connect. My hope, as programmer, is that the art will create community and in return the community will create art, and you never know, there might even be a bit of craic. Do join us.

See full programme details and booking info at londonirishcentre.org.

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