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London’s two different Irish communities

 

The Irish face of London has a new focus with huge swathes of arrivals choosing to live in Clapham and neighbouring postcodes over traditional centres like Cricklewood.

 

The central statistics office (CSO) in Ireland, has confirmed that more than 1,000 Irish people are leaving Ireland for Britain every week and many are choosing London and the south west postcodes around Clapham over the customary north.

The steady influx means the area has become the go-to place for many Irish 20 and 30-somethings, who are arriving ready for life in Britain – something that was not always the general  experience of previous waves of emigration.

It shows for the first time two distinct Irish communities in the city, easily identifiable by location, social, professional and health needs.

From Cricklewood to Clapham is the term being used to describe the change which is being acknowledged by the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS) and Irish welfare groups.

“Clapham is coming down with Irish!” FIS chief executive Jennie McShannon said.

Front-line Irish support services, like Cricklewood Homeless Concern (CHC), claim that the Irish community in Cricklewood is in retreat. They say the area’s new emigrants are arriving from Africa and Eastern Europe, but not Ireland.

This contrasting social and demographic situation has seen an upsurge in demand on health care on the Cricklewood side of the community. As a result CHC has increasing its services in this area by 50 per cent over the last 15 years.

“We feel that emigration now and in the future is going to change if we are to believe that the group coming over are very well educated, knowlegible about the world and have travelled,” said Danny Maher, director of CHC.

The contrasts between the communities are acute on many levels and are symbolised in Clapham by a community that is buoyant, young and upwardly mobile compared with one that is growing increasingly isolated in the more traditional haunts.

The majority of the older community would have been supported professionally in the past by the construction industry in the past. Its Clapham equivalent is City based and university educated.

“We’re very proud of the young people coming over,” said McShannon. “They have a very different profile and it’s estimated that there are thousands upon thousands of them working in the financial services industry and the vast majority are self-reliant.”

That self-reliance is backed by education administered by the internet, with new arrivals better informed and better connected thanks to social networking websites like Facebook and Skype.

Those factors allow this growing Irish community to retain contact with Ireland, which when added to low air fares, means life in places like Clapham can feel like an extension of home.

That extension is also seen in the city’s  GAA clubs and new soccer teams, where Irish accents accumulate by the week –  all in the name of opportunity as much as necessity.

It’s been done before, but not like this.

Clapham is the new Cricklewood.

 

What happened when we spent the day in London’s two communities

Friday morning in Cricklewood…

 

It’s a Friday morning in Cricklewood and the bustle of the Broadway breaks when you take a left down Ashford Road where residential quiet meets Cricklewood Homeless Concern.

The morning is cold and winter’s lingering chill is yet to lift on an area that once warmed a welcome for generations of Irish emigrants.

But things have been changing. The sweep of passing accents on the Broadway is more Eastern European than Irish now, and African migrants fill gaps left behind by a community that’s aging and leaving.

The pictures on the wall in the reception of CHC quickly tell the story – images, which capture the old and the new, the outgoing and the incoming.

This used to be a big piece of Ireland in London’s North West, home to the Galtymore dance hall, an offshore platform for big name Irish acts on a high street that once checked your step with conversation pit stops a dozen times a day.

The Broadway used to be littered with Irish retail workers, packed pubs and prickly banter. Today, it’s replaced in the main, by other ethnic stores and people targeting the needs of newer community groups.

In CHC, the changing client base is pronounced. It’s lunchtime in a diverse dining room located in a bright basement.

Less than 20 years ago, 90 per cent of those eating would have held Irish passports, but now that figure is less than a third – 200 of the 650 clients are Irish.

Danny Maher is the director of CHC. He came to Cricklewood in 1995, when the Broadway was everything it was once billed to be, and more. Now that billing is fading.

“The Irish community here isn’t the same at all,” he says. “I first noticed it about five years ago. I was going down to the post office and suddenly it dawned on me – all the foreign accents. It shook me really because it was lovely to go down the road and meet Irish people and to hear them chatting away as if they had nothing else to do.

“But about 10 years ago, a surge of people went back for the Celtic Tiger and others moved out into the country. What’s left behind is the older generation, the people who didn’t move out and who didn’t go back home.”

Cricklewood was always represented by venues like the Crown and the Galtymore, the latter growing to symbolise the Irish community and sometimes, define it.

Up the road and around the corner, the old dance hall is just a building site now, a byword for nostalgia and happy memories. Time just caught up, and the ticking clock continues the change.

“You can’t discount history,” says Maher. “Places change and communities change. The Irish community is diluted. Today, you see some of the Irish pubs with information on posters written in Polish. If you go to mass, you see an enormous change in the congregation, all kinds of races, black and Filipino, when before it would have been 80 per cent Irish.

“There is a well-connected community in Cricklewood, and plenty of first and second generation Irish people living locally so I think Cricklewood will live on as a location for Irish people but there are many who feel they are losing everything that was once theirs.

“In a way, there are two distinct Irish communities in London now, an aging one with health needs and a young one with social and economic needs.”

Frank Reilly is from Ballyconnell in Co. Cavan. He sits listening to Maher, a thick beard brushing his jacket when he nods to agree. He explains how he moved to Cricklewood from Ireland 24 years ago.

“I only ever heard tell of Cricklewood,” he says.  “In Ireland, I asked how to get there and was told to go to Dublin, get the boat to Holyhead, take the train to London, get the Tube to Kilburn, then the 16 bus up to Cricklewood and that’s what I did.

“I got off outside the Crown, went in and friend of mine was behind the bar, a fella called Joe Reilly from near Mullingar. He couldn’t believe it was me and I didn’t know he was over either. He got me a place to stay right away.

“I enjoyed the Cricklewood that I came to, it was a great crowd. Them that are still here are great. If you were looking for work, you’d go to a pub and get a job. If you knew a subbie you’d ring him and he’d fit you in.

“When you came here first and went into the pubs they were all Irish, Irish people drinking in them, Irish girls working in the cafes as well.  The Galtymore was full of Irish that time. You could go to the Hibernian in Fulham, the Buffalo in Camden Town, I was in all these dance halls, saw the big crowd pullers:  Joe Dolan, Big Tom, Jimmy Buckley, Declan Nerney, Mick Flavin. One-by-one they all closed up.

“Cricklewood is no longer an Irish area. Every nationality under the sun is in Cricklewood and the Irish are a minority. It’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s as close to home as you can get… for me.”

It is evening time on Cricklewood Broadway and Austin McGovern is preparing for a busy night. His father Peter, ran The Crown in the late 50s and was a leading Irish publican in the city. McGovern’s still does a good trade, but oh how it used to be?

“I’d say there are 50,000 less Irish in the area now,” he says. “When I came in ’88 the place was 98 per cent Irish and you couldn’t walk down the street without hearing Irish accents.

“In the late 1980s, in McGoverns on the Kilburn High Road, we used to cash between three and five thousand cheques every week. Over the course of a year, that would average out at about £900,000 a week.  Some weeks, we were doing £1.5 million in cheques.  The queue into the pub used to be five or six hundred yards long and five or six people deep.

“The Irish community was centred around the building industry then and that’s collapsed now, so the link with the industry over here doesn’t exist anymore. I guess the people that are coming over would be coming for jobs in the city in the square mile.

“I’d still say Cricklewood has a lot of Irish roots, but Kilburn not so much. Camden Town used to be Irish and it’s not anymore – In London, a community can leave and another can come in and take its place very quickly.

“People always moved out of Cricklewood. If they got settled here and had kids, they’d moved out further to places like Harrow and Kingsbury. You never noticed it much because new people would come in and replace them.

“That hasn’t been happening in years…there is some young Irish coming here, but just not that many compared to what you would expect. When the next generation arrives they go to where people they know are, where their friends are.”

 

Friday night in Clapham…

 

 

Friday night in Clapham; the streets are busy, trade is brisk and many of the clientele in the bars are Irish. Up the road from the high street and across from the Common, The Alexandra Hotel, once run by the Mulpeter family from Kildare, remains a landmark Irish pub, busy tonight with the latest wave of emigration.

Clapham is the new Cricklewood…Kilburn, Camden, Harrow, Hammersmith; name-check whichever city settlement you like, this area of South London is fast becoming the default resting place for a new generation of emigrants; a generation that is both educated and informed and one that finds itself in the city as much by choice as by necessity.

For many new Irish arrivals, London is a place of opportunity and optimism. Its forms are both professional and social. Clapham along with its adjoining SW postcodes is fast becoming the entry point for many new beginnings and a place more are starting to call home.

The tentacles which stream out from the Junction are not just railway lines and they stretch from Tooting to Stockwell, to Wandsworth and Putney.

This is an area which spawned this year’s London senior football championship winning football team – Fulham Irish – and is sprouting soccer teams with names like Wandsworth Celtic.

If Cricklewood had the Galtymore, then Clapham’s Irish community are adopting Infernos and further down the road, the Swan. They may pale in comparison, but both are growing centres of Irish sociability.

Significantly though, Clapham fits professionally. It’s situated in a location that provides excellent access to the City; is a handy spin to Gatwick for the flight home; charges reasonable rent and its growing reputation among those who are moving there, is the fashionable side of trendy.

Tom Fitzpatrick, 25, is a journalist from Cork. He has been living in Clapham for the last 14 months and planned to settle in London’s south west before he arrived.

“If you were moving from Cork to London and wanted to land on your feet, it made sense to come to an area like Clapham,” he says.

“It had a reputation as a place where lots of Irish people our age lived, for being young, up-and-coming, somewhere that’s a bit cheaper to rent and with great transport access all over the city, Gatwick and the south of England.

“My girlfriend knew a good few Irish people living in Clapham and we moved there with three other Irish girls who were looking for a place there too.

“You say to people that you are living in Clapham and they say ‘along with all the other Irish?”

This area of South West is diverse however, like many traditional Irish areas in London always have been. Notting Hill was once home to both the Irish and Afro-Caribbean communities and the Cricklewood of today is a mix of Irish, Eastern European and African peoples…however, the Irish in Clapham are increasing rather than decreasing in number.

“I think people know there is a huge number of Irish here,” says Tom. “But it’s cosmopolitan. Even at Halloween, families calling to the house, trick or treating, nearly all of them had foreign accents.

“We don’t seem to be surrounded by many people from England at all, yet I’ve bumped into people from home on the street and didn’t even know they lived here.”

Sarah Kerrigan, 28, is from Summerhill in County Meath. She moved to London by choice in 2006, and settled in the city’s south west.

“The main reason I came was the Olympics,” she says. “I studied leisure management and I was looking to the future, I decided it was best to come over and see if I could get involved.  I teach sixth form in Hackney, where there are lots of Olympic projects and lots of opportunities.

“Most of my friends live in and around Clapham or on the edge, places like Tooting, around St George’s hospital, where a lot of Irish nurses work. It has a reputation for being a young area and it’s definitely becoming an Irish area.

“Before I came over, I’d heard of places like Kilburn and Cricklewood, but I started playing football with Round Towers and straight away, we had a community based around South London.

“If you go down there on a hot summer’s day and you will see groups of different people on the Common with hurls, pucking about, or Gaelic footballs kicking about.

“The best thing about living here is the variation, jobs, nightlife and you are only a couple of hours from home. I have relations in Kerry and I’m often home before them. By the time they leave Waterville, and get to my house, I’d be home in Summerhill and they’d only be in Tullamore.”

Colm Davis, 27, moved to Britain for professional reasons 15 months ago. He works as an accountant for RBS in Liverpool Street and was part of the London hurling squad that won the Nicky Rackard All-Ireland title in June.

“I could have stayed at home,” he says. “But I came for the experience from a work point of view. I moved to a job. My brother lives in Clapham and originally I stayed with him. I got to know the area. It’s convenient for where I’m working and the social scene is lively enough too.

“I knew Fulham Irish were setting up a hurling club so being around here was going to be handy. A lot of the team comes from this area to train in Tooting and Earlsfield, which is only down the road.

“On Saturday nights you’d hear accents from all over the country and when the All Ireland’s are on and the big rugby matches, the pubs showing it would be fairly packed with Irish.”

This tale of emigration is different than the past however; Ireland and family are far more accessible to this generation.

“I’d go back every six to eight weeks and would still be in touch with my friends at home,” he says. “At times London can feel like an extension of Ireland, but where I work, you’d definitely know I wasn’t in Ireland, working with people from all over the world.

“I’m sure people would like to go home eventually, but we’re just getting on with it, making the most of it.”

Lynn O’Riordan, 23, is from Rathmines in Dublin. She lives in Clapham and came to London to study event management. She says Irish people rely on each other to get set up in the city.

“London is so big and there are so many people here, but in Clapham there’s a sense of a community amongst the Irish. I think we do all congregate together and people I wouldn’t have necessarily been friends with at home, get in contact with you when they come over. Friends of friends will email and say they’re coming over and could they meet.

“Walking down the street there’s no Irish shops in Clapham, but the Irish are in it. It’s a young place and it’s known for people starting out their career.

“I talk to my family every day and am all the time on the phone to my friends, through Facebook, Skype and on the phone.

I know people coming want to live in Clapham because that’s where the Irish are living… I’ve never even heard of Cricklewood.”

 

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