Waterford- born Irish Ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall (soon to depart for his new post in Washington) gave the leading speech, in what was a well attended gathering.
Outgoing City & County Mayor Adam Wyse (FF) was also attendance, along with Lar Power of the Waterford Council Executive.
We met a number of long term emigrants from Waterford, who were guests at the event, including Mary ‘Dolly’ Manning of Slievekeale, Waterford, who worked at The Munster Express many years ago before leaving for London in the 1950s and Peggy Vardy, also a long term emigrant from Slievekeale in Waterford.
They were now being recognised by the Irish Government as given their major contribution to the UK during the post World War II era. The Irish helped Britain re-build its housing, roads and motorways, assisted in the establishment of the new National Health Service and also worked considerably in education.
Their stories may not have made major headlines, but they worked hard said Ambassador Mulhall and some had fallen on harder times. But now, the Irish State was recognising their efforts.
‘Official Ireland’ may have ignored them in the past, but the Government now puts between €5 million and €6 million annually into the Irish centres in Britain, for community welfare and various events.
We spoke to Mary Manning and Peggy Vardy, they left on boats from the Adelphi Quay, where British Rail ran the Great Western passenger boat.
They remembered back in the 50s when they saw signs on boarding houses which read: “no blacks, Irish or dogs” throughout London.
Mary did well and got a job almost immediately at the Victory Pub in Kilburn (later Biddy Mulligan’s) with living accommodation; the Irish were great customers, but sometimes the ‘Paddywagon’ could be called at weekends if trouble emerged, she recalled.
She would meet her future Irish husband working there as a colleague, whom has since sadly passed away.
Mary recalled Tony Rogers, and the late Paddy Doyle, Michael Whelan and Frank Walsh. She also recalled the late proprietor of this newspaper, JJ Walsh along with Madge and Pat Walsh.
Her friend at the Irish Centre, another regular Munster Express reader Peggy Vardy, said she worked in the Westminster Council as did her husband Sean Stephen and they lived in Pimlico near Victoria Station. Their families also attended last Monday’s event.
Patrick Kennedy of the Yellow Road was also there too; he now resides in Ealing. He ran an art gallery and is heavily involved in the Ealing Chamber of Commerce; he regularly comes to Waterford for the Chamber of Commerce dinner in November.
Mayor Adam Wyse was joined at the event by Camden Mayor, Cllr Richard Cotton (Lab) also spoke on the contribution of the Irish to London and UK generally.
Mayor Wyse noted that it was one of his last public events he would attend and he recognised the work of Mary Allen of the Waterford Association as did the Ambassador.
The Mayor gave Waterford Crystal a big mention, so too the Blaa and he explained to locals how Waterford has come to have two Mayors!
The Irish remarked on Cllr Wyse’s status as Waterford’s youngest ever mayor and he was warmly greeted for the unveiling of a plaque to the Forgotten Irish.
The welfare work of Kilmeaden native Mary Allen with respect to the Irish Centre was particularly noted by the manager of the Irish Centre, Sean Kennedy. She had a tapestry work (previously highlighted in this newspaper) partly completed by prisoners on display: Ireland has the highest number of non-UK prisoners in British jails, we were told.
Ambassador Mulhall noted how Mary wrote to him when he got the job, stating that “At last, we have a Waterford ambassador in the Embassy!” He also noted that he put in a small symbolic stitch in the tapestry.
Ambassador Mulhall was very proud to be there for past 4 years and we would later hear him speak to a largely British audience in the Embassy a day later. He said his wife, Greta from Perth Australia, especially loved the community work of the Irish at the centre and regularly attended events, she was almost in tears leaving so many good friends behind there as they head for the USA.
Mary Allen was described as inspirational when it came to her community work. The Centre raised over €400,000 to pay for welfare workers.
Outside on the wall many mounted photos and storylines of Irish workers were recalled, from builders to nurses, home workers, domestics, factory workers and clerical staff. The GAA also featured, as did dances at the Galtymore ballroom.
There were also references to The Irish World and Irish Post newspapers; the current Editor of The Irish Post is Tramore native Siobhan Breathnach and the paper was of course founded by Waterford man Tony Beatty.
During his address, Ambassador Mulhall gave some background to his career, from his time in Malaysia, Germany (where there was much work to do at the time of the Irish bailout) and now there is Brexit here in the UK. Trouble seems to follow him he jokingly stated.
After lunch and speeches, all the county flags, including Waterford’s was brought out as a guard of honour for the plaque unveiling.
Mayor Richard Cotton spoke of his Cork roots and how the Irish helped build up the NHS and how George Bernard Shaw was a Camden Labourite and resident before winning the Nobel Prize. Seamus Heaney had also worked in the borough as a teacher.
He also spoke about the Grenfell Tower tragedy and how they now had to urgently evacuate tower blocks for building work in recent days, following safety inspections, and now had to find places for them to stay.
Irish Centre Chairperson Dermot Murphy told heart rending stories of navvies coming to work many decades ago.
The joke was: ‘Who made the world – God, but who laid the bricks – McAlpines!” Irishmen and Irish women also came in big numbers in the 50s, doing all different jobs, leaving rural Ireland for the big city of London. For some it was a lonely experience, he added.
Readers of this story can help the new Irish and become a friend of the Irish Centre and aid the Forgotten Irish that remain in hard times, the Mayor extolled.
A Mrs Brown of Sandycove, Dublin paid for the plaque and there is a similar one in Dun Laoghaire pier, where the emigrant ships left and some never came back.
When Ambassador Mulhall came to London, he recalled the Donal Foley book about the
Reference was made to the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support programme; there is now more engagement with the Diaspora, similar to what’s done in both the USA and Australia nowadays.
A total of 120 projects have been supported in the country to recognise the role of the Irish in the in UK. Those hitting hard times should not be forgotten.