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Who’s your Hibernian hero? – Part 1

The Irish Youth Foundation’s inaugural Hibernian Hero Award will highlight the vital work being done by organisations serving Irish youngsters across Britain which the charity supports each year. Ten IYF-supported projects have been nominated for the 2012 award, but it will be up to you, our Irish Post readers, to decide just who should take the prestigious title.

 

Before we ask you to choose your winner we will publish a profile of each of the nominated projects over the coming weeks, featuring a member of the organisation’s hard-working team, introduced by their celebrity supporter. Once all 10 have been profiled we will ask you to choose the organisation you think best deserves to win the Hibernian Hero title and receive the prestigious award at a star-studded ceremony at Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s restaurant in London on November 1.

 

This week we profile our first two nominated projects, The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith and Conradh na Gaeilge Glaschú (The Gaelic League Glasgow). If you are interested in being involved in the Hibernian Hero Award night as a sponsor contact Zoe Desmond on 020 8748 9640.

 

Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith

 

 

Celebrity supporter, TV presenter Eoghan McDermott told The Irish Post: “Kelly’s strong personal commitment combined with the energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved with the Irish Cultural Centre, has contributed significantly to its reputation as a leading national Cultural Centre for the promotion of Irish arts and education. Having fought a huge battle to save the Centre during the past two years, when its premises were put up for sale by the local council, and succeeding in raising the £1.5million to make the purchase, I have no doubt that there is a bright future ahead for ICC.”

 

 

Dublin-native Kelly O’Connor has worked as assistant manager at the historic Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith for two years. We went along to the Blacks Road site to learn more about their commitment to the young people within the Irish community across London.

Tell us about the charity and your role:

“We are a cultural centre, so our remit is Irish culture. But we are most known for education — we do adult programmes and children’s programmes, but we are unique in the depth and scope of the education services we offer here, from Irish music and dance classes in-house, to our outreach work with schools in the borough. My role is to support the General Manager primarily but as we are understaffed our small team’s work involves shifting from one role to another. I generally support everything that’s going on here, which is a lot.”

What services does the charity provide for Irish children?

“Our main children’s services are our Irish music and dance classes, our education outreach services, such as our St. Patrick’s School’s project – which reaches roughly 300,000 children in 3,000 schools in London, and our Culture Camps.”

How does IYF funding support your work?

“The funding we receive from the IYF supports our annual Culture Camps. We run these a few times a year, offering up to five days of camp here at the centre, devoted to Irish cultural activities. Each day has an Irish theme, maybe St Patrick, and they will work on it throughout the day — in drama, music, crafts, a whole range of activities. Most recently the funding allowed us to make a film to document the whole Culture Camp week, which we showed to the parents at the end of the camp. It was so touching, everyone burst into tears, those kind of things are very special. The IYF funding allowed us to create a document that marked a time, a place and an experience that these children had. It showed the magical element of what happens here, the friendships forged, the children coming out of themselves and finding new skills.

How important is the work you do for the children you serve?

“I think it’s vital that our children’s services exist. The work we do here for young people, you just can’t put a figure on the importance of it. You often get kids who change the minute they come in here, you find these little sparks which tap into something. Many go from being shy or quiet or really awkward to being able to stand on a stage and perform or play music. It’s vital in that sense.”

What does it mean to your organisation to be nominated for the IYF Hibernian Hero Award?

“Being nominated for this award is an honour for us. You rarely come up for air when you are focusing so strongly on building a programme and a future for the centre and the young people we serve, and we rely a lot on giving each other support — so it’s a really nice thing to be recognised from the outside. It would of course be wonderful to win. The IYF funding is so vital to protect our services so we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for all their help and support over the years to date.”

 

Conradh na Gaeilge Glaschú (The Gaelic League Glasgow)

 

 

Celebrity supporter, Sunderland Football Manager Martin O’Neill told The Irish Post: “Being Irish myself, and having also lived in Glasgow, I feel a natural affiliation with Maireád. There is a very strong Irish community in Glasgow, (I am sure anyone who follows the Scottish Premier League is aware of this!), and I believe that the work Maireád, and the other volunteers in Conradh na Gaeilge Glaschú carry out as teachers of the Irish language, is instrumental in keeping the Irish heritage alive in Scotland. Maireád’s passion for what she does is inspiring, and she is already a Hibernian Hero in my book!”

 

 

Donegal-native Maireád Uí Ghall moved to Glasgow as a child but only began to learn the Irish language in later life. She has offered her services at Conradh na Gaeilge Glaschú since the 1980s — one of the many volunteers who dedicate their free time to the centre. This week she told us more about the organisation.

Tell us more about the charity and your role:

“Our aim is to promote and foster the Irish language and to promote the culture of Ireland. The organisation started in Dublin but the Glasgow branch was founded in 1895. It has always been a voluntary organisation and the teachers who take classes are all mainly volunteers. I have been involved here since the early ’80s. Although born in Donegal I came to Glasgow when I was a child, however I didn’t hear the language being spoken until I was a teenager.”

What service does the charity provide for Irish children?

“We have children here every week taking language classes. What’s interesting is they are there for different reasons. Some are from families whose language at home is Irish. They were born here and know English but their parents want them to learn Gaelic in a fun setting with other children. Others are from families who hope to return to Ireland, they want their children prepared to enter their new school with knowledge of the language. Some have left Ireland to live in Glasgow, and their parents don’t want them to lose the language. We also have some second or third generation Irish children who are keen to know more of the culture of their parents or grandparents.”

How does IYF funding support your work?

“As a voluntary organisation we rely heavily on support from others and on fundraising. We use our IYF funding to help fund our children’s summer camp, for children up to the age of about 13. Over the week we have drama, music, dancing and even Gaelic sports and learn words in Gaelic related to the activities. This allows us to introduce new words and short phrases to their learning. This is our fourth year of running the camp, and we could not have done it without the help of IYF over the years. That funding allows us to give some remuneration to our tutors, without whom it could not take place.”

How important is the work you do for the children you serve?

“If the centre didn’t exist I am not aware of anywhere else in Glasgow where these children, and the adults we serve, could go to learn the language in this way. We don’t have an Irish centre as such here, so this type of Irish cultural service is not widely available. Also, the number of people who want to learn the language is on the increase and it’s vital that there is a place for them to learn and keep our wonderful Irish language alive. We serve young people and adults from a very wide spread of areas in and around Glasgow, some students even come from much further away, along the west coast of Scotland. There is just nowhere else for them to go.”

What does it mean to your organisation to be nominated for the IYF Hibernian Hero Award?

“It is a fantastic privilege to be nominated for this award. Without the funding we get from IYF we would not be able to put on these classes during the summer. We really do appreciate it and it gives us the chance to consolidate the work we are doing all year round in our classes. We get to reinforce all they are learning and that’s so important. The nomination also helps to raise the profile of our organisation, and the work being done here. It opens us up to a much wider audience which is fantastic for us.”

 

 

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