Each year the Liverpool Irish Festival takes work to the Liverpool Irish Centre; which we believe should be the spiritual home Liverpool’s Irish community. They are –and have always been- a significant partner of the Festival, providing a valuable social and civic centre and making people welcome year-round. We know the Centre runs a number of projects, sports occasions and festivities and so asked one of the Centre’s managers to give us a day in the life. Richie Billinge does just that…
Promoting Irish culture and providing a place for people to maintain a connection to Ireland is our founding motive. Throughout the week here you’ll find Irish music, dance and language lessons; social groups and those dedicated to improving health and wellbeing, whilst at the weekends we provide a warm and welcoming place to celebrate some of the things we love best: live music, sport and plenty of craic.
Monday evenings are dedicated to traditional Irish music, with the brilliant people of Comhaltas hosting lessons for youngsters on instruments ranging from the bodhrán to the harp. It’s a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere, not only giving children the opportunity to learn an instrument, but to forge lasting friendships.
The same goes for our weekly dance classes run by the Bolger-Cunningham School of Irish Dance, who not only develop children’s Irish dancing abilities, but assist them as individuals, building confidence and providing a place to meet and make new friends; giving them opportunities to take their dancing out to the wider world for special performances in Liverpool, Ireland and beyond.
One of our strongest connections to home is the Gaelic language. Each Thursday evening you’ll find enthusiastic groups of all ages and backgrounds studying Gaelic to maintain this critical link. Here at the Liverpool Irish Centre, we encourage it as much as possible with our Gaelic signage, and -hopefully in the months ahead- our new Gaelic Garden. Visitors are minded not to walk into the Fir (gents) if they mean to go to the Mná (ladies)!
It was the older generations that migrated in the 1950s and 60s to Liverpool who struggled against great adversity to establish the Liverpool Irish Centre in Mount Pleasant, and although we may be in a different building, you can find these stalwarts of the community here each week on Wednesdays and Thursdays for lunch clubs and afternoon tea dances.
This idea of community is the basis behind everything we do. Maintaining these social connections is very important for our society and for our community’s well-being. For a lot of people, we are their sole connection to home and we try to make it as genuine and special as possible with the likes of our Irish shop, selling goods and fresh produce imported from Ireland; bringing over their favourite singers, bands and acts -from The Whistlin’ Donkeys, Dervish, The Wolfe Tones and Sharon Shannon- and showing live GAA matches; sports that have a magical way of bringing Irish people together.
Our Sláinte Le Chéile (Health Together) project sees four regular events each week all designed to help boost our community’s mental and physical health and well-being. On Mondays, we have our health walk (and talk!) which involves a leisurely stroll around the lovely Newsham Park and then back here to the Centre for a well-earned cup of tea. On Tuesdays, our Cuimhne/Memories group -for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s- meet up to listen to their favourite Irish songs, share stories of old, and enjoy lots of treats from home—Irish soups, biscuits and cake, to name but a few. Wednesdays are dedicated to our community garden which has been transformed by our hard-working volunteers from a forgotten wasteland into a beautiful environment, now home to a growing number of flowers, birds and insects.
*But* not only do we serve the Irish community, but the entire community of Merseyside and beyond. One morning we’ll have scores of young and enthusiastic children learning how to Irish dance, and in the afternoon we’ll play host to a cultural celebration from Sri Lanka, Nepal or the Philippines. Just as the thousands of Irish migrants to the city needed a place to meet and continue their strong connections with home, we offer the same to our diverse community of Nepalese, Tamils, Poles, Keralans, Filipinos and many more. We’re proud to be able to help these groups keep their community links burning bright, just as the Irish needed in the 1950s and 60s when they made the trip across the Irish Sea.
We’re never satisfied with the services that we offer. There’s always more to be done and this drives us to keep on looking for ways to serve the needs of our ever-growing and diverse community. It’s said that over three-quarters of those who live in Liverpool have roots in Ireland. If you’d like to find out more about your past we’d be delighted to help you out.
If you’re looking to get involved, either as a volunteer or participant or would simply like to come down and enjoy some live music and a cracking pint of Guinness™, then please get in touch! You can find us at liverpoolirishcentre.org, give us a call on +44 (0)151 263 1808 or email us [email protected].
Tá súil againn tú a fheiceáil go luath! We hope to see you soon!