Author: Laura Brown

Liverpool Irish Festival 15-25 October

  • Ten days of music, performance and conversation shifts online for 2020
  • Patrick Kielty spearheads programme exploring theme of “exchange”.

Liverpool Irish Festival returns with a virtual programme in 2020, celebrating the connections between Liverpool and Ireland. In a year of change and turbulence, the Festival explores exchange through art, conversation, music and history, how it connects communities and crosses borders. 

A series of events examine how exchange has played out through conflict, cultural exchange and artistic practice, while diverse conversations expose dual-heritage lives, reconciliation and collective trauma. 

Irish Comedian and TV presenter Patrick Kielty headlines the programme with a special event, Hard Histories, Positive Futures. Kielty, whose father was killed by paramilitary gunmen in 1988, made a BBC documentary to mark 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me. Here, he interviews representatives from Northern Ireland’s Commission for Victims and Survivors. Established in 2005, the Commission is active in reconciling Ireland’s divisions and handling the collective trauma of The Troubles. Our event asks: what is its role and how are the voices of victims and survivors of The Troubles heard? 

In a separate event, award winning former CNN correspondent, Mike Chinoy, discusses his new biography of Kevin Boyle, co-founder of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. In Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement Mike explores Kevin’s role in creating the intellectual argument for the Good Friday Agreement and his actions as advisor to Mary Robinson. Mike also questions the parallels between Northern Ireland’s troubled history and its status now, during the Brexit upheaval, alongside how yesterday’s lessons inform our world view today, especially during the turbulence of 2020.

Music is central to both Liverpool Irish Festival and the idea of cultural exchange. Cork-based independent music label Unemployable Promotions stage a musical showcase of their roster of artists, providing a flavour of Cork’s music scene and laying the foundation for a great Liverpool-Cork exchange in future. 

Later, we hear from multi-award winning Irish singer and musician Colm Keegan, best known as one of the principal singers in PBS’s sensation show: Celtic Thunder, which led to him meeting his soon-to-be musical partner and wife, Glaswegian cellist Laura Durrant. 

In a new Meet the Maker series, the Festival introduces online audiences to artists, creators and crafters of Liverpool and Irish heritage, for a knowledge exchange and Q&A. Biographer Carmen Cullen; writer, poet and historian Greg Quiery; Réamonn Ó Ciaráin, a leading expert in Cú Chulainn and Gaelic translation and musician Terry Clarke-Coyne create individual online events exploring and celebrating their art. 

The full programme is available here 

Behind the scenes at ‘Rebels and Friends’

During #LIF2018 Liverpool Hope University Associate Professor Sonja Tiernan presented a brilliantly received talk at the International Slavery Museum about the life and activism of Countess Markievicz, one of the better-understood Irish suffragists, though still widely unrecognised in Great Britain today. This year, Lynx Theatre and Poetry widens the story about her and her life with Rebels and Friends, a play examining the relationship between her and her sister Eva, the play celebrates these two women, their activism, loyalty and passion. Artistic Director, William Anderson, tells us more… 

In 1918, the first woman elected to the British parliament was in prison on a trumped-up charge. Following a year of centenary celebrations of (some) women ‘getting the vote’, too few people know about her election. Her name was Constance Markievicz, and Lynx Theatre and Poetry is bringing her unique story to this year’s Liverpool Irish Festival in a new production of the ‘stunning and evocative’ play Rebels and Friends.

The play tells how Constance and her sister Eva, born into the wealthy Gore-Booth family in Sligo, and described by W.B Yeats as ‘Two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful’, rejected the conventions of their class, and dedicated themselves to working people and Irish independence. The play’s author, Jacqueline Mulhallen said: ‘These were active women, not Lady Bountifuls. 

‘Constance was an artist who married a Polish count, but she also ran a soup kitchen in the Dublin lockout and carried sacks of coal up flights of stairs for the needy. In 1916 she was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising and she became Labour Minister in the (illegal) Irish Dail. 

‘Eva was a poet and pacifist, defending conscientious objectors in WW1. With her lifelong partner Esther Roper, she campaigned in northwest England for trade union rights, education and the vote for working women. These are women who should never be forgotten.’

A reviewer in Cork (where Lynx had to put in extra seating for the original production) said ‘Rebels and Friends has a documentary sweep … which lifts it above mere theatre and unfolds history in quite the most absorbing fashion’, and audiences agreed. Peter Burman, a former director of National Trust Scotland said ‘I was so totally gripped by it that I’d totally forgotten where I was’.

For me, these extraordinary lives, need an extraordinary production to realise them. In addition to the two performers there is a continuous backdrop of some 600 images: archive photographs, Eva and Constance’s rarely seen paintings and drawings and specially commissioned photographs of Ireland, England and Italy. There is poetry, rebel songs, traditional Irish harp and fiddle music and dance. Our new production is choreographed by Siân Williams, who founded The Kosh dance company. Siân is currently Master of Dance at the Globe Theatre (London), and was choreographer for the BBC’s acclaimed Wolf Hall.

Mulhallen also wrote a highly successful one-woman play about Sylvia Pankhurst, Sylvia, which was revived a couple of years ago, and has been touring the northwest. ‘It was while I was writing Sylvia that I found out that Eva had inspired Christabel Pankhurst to found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Despite having an Irish father, I did not know about these sisters, and so the play was an exploration of my own history as well as theirs. In addition, because of the complexity of British-Irish relations, I did not want to interpret the past and their roles, but to bring them to life using their own words and documentary evidence alone’.

Her effectiveness navigating the challenge is shown by the packed houses the play drew in England and Ireland. Between 1989 and 1992 it toured from Honiton to Hexham in England (including The Flying Picket Theatre in Liverpool), and three times around Ireland, including Northern Ireland in 1990. That year it was also the first play on an Irish theme performed in Birmingham since the bombings of 1974. When it played in Dublin in 1991, Lynx’s staff were drawn from all quarters of the dispute over Ireland.

Thirty years after it was first staged, this new production of Rebels and Friends has attracted cross-border support with funding from both Arts Council England and the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, as well as from Unite the Union. After all, with Brexit, it may be a good time to remind people of the problems which underlay the Troubles and the Good Friday peace agreement.

Rebels and Friends is still ground-breaking for the richness of its style and for its balance in capturing the political and the personal in the lives of Constance and Eva. Its revival offers a new generation a chance to experience the power of their unique story creatively, as told by Lynx Theatre and Poetry, and to learn more about two women of historical importance who seem to be becoming invisible. After the two performances in Liverpool, the play will continue touring the northwest and then up to Newcastle and down to London. Details are available at

Further reading:

  • Patrick Quigley, Sisters Against the Empire: Countess Constance Markievicz and Eva Gore-Booth, 1916-17 (Liffey Press, €19.95)
  • Sonja Tiernan, Eva Gore-Booth: An Image of Such Politics (Manchester University Press, £17.99)
  • Anne Haverty, Constance Markievicz, Irish Revolutionary (Lilliput Press, 2016)
  • Jacqueline van Voris, Constance Markievicz in the Cause of Ireland (University of Massachusetts Press, 1967)

Buy your tickets for Rebels and Friends here. It’s on 25/26 October.

Gradam Ceoil TG4 at LIF

Last year TG4 joined us as a sponsor. We had so much fun with them that this year we decided to amp up the work and collaborate on two specific music events: Visible Women and Gradam Ceoil (Music Awards), both taking place at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room. Showcasing some of the most outstanding talent Ireland has to offer, TG4 are becoming known for their visionary approach to Irish language broadcasting, inclusion and accessibility. This assists not only with storytelling and talent development, but also keeping communities linked and connected with home. Below, TG4 tell us more about Gradam Ceoil and what it means to them …

TG4 are excited to work with #LIF2019 and specifically to present a very special concert (full details below) with some of the world’s most accomplished Irish traditional musicians, Conor Connolly, Clare Friel and Liam O’Brien, who have each been awarded the Young Musician of the Year award at Gradam Ceoil TG4 in 2019, 2018 & 2017 respectively. 

Gradam Ceoil TG4 is the premier annual traditional Irish music awards scheme and academy. An independent panel of adjudicators selects recipients each year. Known as the ‘Oscars of Traditional Music’, national Irish language broadcaster TG4’s Gradam Ceoil awards are broadcast annually, with a live concert and ceremony, shining a spotlight on the crème-de-la-crème of traditional music and song, featuring musicians being recognised by their peers, with awards for their talent and contribution to traditional Irish music.

This special concert in conjunction with the Liverpool Irish Festival will bring a taste of Gradam Ceoil TG4 to Liverpool, showcasing three of the most exciting musical talents to come out of Ireland in recent years.

Conor Connolly hails from South Co. Galway. One of the most traditional and solid accordion players of his generation, he is an inspiration to many. An accordion player and singer, his music and song is rooted in his home county, with some of his main influences being Joe Cooley, Charlie Harris, P.J. Conlon and Tony Mac Mahon. His playing is full of heart and soul, with a great understanding and respect for the tradition and the players he learned from. Having played with some of the most renowned traditional musicians we have today, he is well respected by them and highly regarded amongst his peers. H ewon Young Traditional Musician of the Year, 2019.

Doireann Ní Ghlacáin hails from Dublin and is currently undergoing a PHD in Irish at NUIG.  Her thesis is based on the sean nós songs of the Muskerry Gaeltacht, many of which were reintroduced into the modern tradition by her maternal grandfather, Seán Ó’Riada. Although an accomplished sean nós singer, having won many prestigious awards such as that of Oireachtas na Gaeilge, Glackin is better known for her fiddle playing.  She learnt the fiddle from her father Kevin Glackin and has gone on to bring her music to the world stage in recent years.  She has also performed on major traditional music broadcasts such as HUP, Béaloideas Beo and -of note- Tradfest TG4 a series, which she also presents.

Liam O’Brien is from Miltown Malbay. He was brought up in a very musical family. After starting on the tin whistle he went on to take up the concertina and attended classes with Noel Hill for many years. Liam then went on to study Irish Music & Dance in the University of Limerick. He has now travelled the world playing and teaching. He has been all across Europe, Africa and spent the summer of 2012 touring Japan. Liam also teaches concertina and banjo as part of the Brid O’Donohue School of Music where his popularity grows and grows. He won TG4 Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2016.

As well as this outstanding concert, the three artists will share their talent with a pool of budding musicians in a set of free masterclasses, hosted as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival. Each will provide a bespoke workshop in fiddle, accordion and concertina, giving a select number of participants an opportunity to hone their skills under the guidance of these top class performers. Numbers are limited. To apply please email [email protected] quoting ‘TG4Masterclass’, providing your name, chosen session, skill level and key objective for the session.

If you are interested in attending the annual Gradam Ceoil TG4 awards, they will be presented at a live-televised gala concert at The Waterfront (Belfast) in Feb 2020, 9.00pm. You can make a full weekend of it, too, as a dedicated Gradam Fringe Festival brings Belfast alive in song, with a host of free music events and workshops taking place in various locations across the city. This event is not to be missed if Irish traditional music is your thing!

For more information, or to watch previous Gradam Ceoil TG4 awards ceremonies, go to and or follow us on Facebook and Twitter @GradamCeoil #GRADAM

Tickets for the Gradam Ceoil TG4 at Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room on Tues 22 Oct are available from the venue direct

We have a full programme of Gradam Ceoil TG4 events …

TG4’s Gradam Ceoil: An Irish Trad Night 22 Oct, 8pm-10pm, Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room. Doors 7.30pm

Gradam Ceoil masterclass: accordion 23 Oct, 12-1.30pm, Liverpool Philharmonic Dining Rooms

Gradam Ceoil masterclass: fiddle, 23 Oct, 1.30-3.00, Liverpool Philharmonic Dining Rooms

Gradam Ceoil masterclass: concertina, 23 Oct, 3-4.30pm, Liverpool Philharmonic Dining Rooms

A Day in the Life of the Liverpool Irish Centre

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, 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!

The history of the Ferguson School of Irish Dance

George Ferguson is a linchpin of the Liverpool Irish community, known to many Liverpool Irish families -across recent decades- for his work with hundreds (maybe thousands) of dancers. His school turns 40 years old in 2019 and in honour of this, we asked George to think about his journey to founding the dance school and what it has meant to him. George picks up the story…

In 1966, at the age of 11, I was taken to watch my sister attend her Irish dance class and unbeknown to me, my Mom supplied the two shillings and sixpence needed, to give me a lesson also. By the end of that lesson I could dance The Reel completely and to music! The dance teacher, Marion Turley told mom that I was ‘a dancer’ and, despite several efforts, I have never escaped since then. The Turley Academy is renowned worldwide for world champion dancers and produced Colin Dunne, nine times World Champion, who famously took over the lead in Riverdance, at two days’ notice, when Michael Flatley left.

Both of my parents are Irish; Dad from Fermanagh and Mom from Mayo, so all summers were spent between the two counties, but mostly in Mayo. As dancing was on both sides of the family it followed that we would continue the tradition. 

I started the usual round of Feisanna (competitions) in the Midlands (as that was where I was born and brought up), Coventry specifically. Rising through the medals, I attended my first World Championships in Dublin, which was a terrifying but great experience. The following year I attended the All Ireland Championships (again in Dublin) and placed third. Later that year I won the Arch Bishop Langley Feis, defeating the reigning World Champion. In 1972 I returned to the Mansion House (Dublin) to win the World Championship for myself. Two months later I came to the Liverpool Feis and won the first of three consecutive Senior Championships victories there. Having completed my A-levels I gained a place at Liverpool Art College for a one year course. I fell in love with the city and have stayed ever since.

I obtained an art teaching position at Deyes High School (Maghull) and set up the dance class, having passed my Teagascoir Choimisiuin le Rinci Gaelacha (TCRG– essentially the Commission for certifying Irish dance teaching). I undertook my Irish Dance teacher exams in Dublin. In April 1979 -at St. Anthony of Padua, Mossley Hill, Queens Drive- I started with eight dancers on the first night and grew to 40+ quite quickly. We started attending Feisanna and eventually ended up with three classes across the city. We took teams and solo dancers to local Feisanna and National and World Championships in various venues throughout England and Ireland . 

As the recession set in, parents were reluctant to attend the Feisanna due to the cost. We had a survey and decided that there were other aspects we were more interested in, rather than relentless competitions. We concentrated on shows, displays and exhibitions, ranging from TV appearances on programmes such as BBC’s A Question of Sport where we danced with John Aldridge, the Liverpool and Irish Republic footballer. Last year (2018) we performed at the Vince Power’s Liverpool Feis, an Irish music festival held at the Pier Head. Headline acts included Van Morrison, Shane McGowan and Liverpool’s own, Nathan Carter! More recently we performed at the Epstein Theatre with local musicians and the legend of comedy that is Jimmy Cricket in An Irish Hooley, a variety show that featured on the TV program The Irish in the UK. We have even danced for the Sunday Politics show, which must be a first for Irish dance! 

As for me, I performed my last dance to celebrate 50 years of St. Patricks Day performances at the John Mitchell’s GAA presentation dinner dance at the Crown Plaza Liverpool, for the GAA President on 4 March 2017.

Irish dance has changed markedly over the years. Costumes, hair and steps have responded to the impact of shows, started by Riverdance. Some would say that since Irish dance is now not the sole domain of those of Irish descent or origin; that it has moved away from its roots and traditions. It has to be hoped that these traditions are not lost for the sake of progress! 

From now on it’s over to the next generation of dancers and hopefully my daughter, Cecilia, will continue when I eventually leave off and keep the Ferguson School name going. I know it will be in good hands! 

It has been an honour and a privilege to have been involved with generations of dancers and their families, through 40 years of the medium of Irish Dance.

To find out more information about George’s school and his classes, log on to Facebook and search for /George-Ferguson-School-of-Irish-Dance. Alternatively, you can call George direct, being mindful of standard working hours, on +44 (0) 777 188 4724.

George’s dancers will perform at 3pm at the Family Day (Museum of Liverpool) on Sat 26 Oct 2019. An anniversary celebration will also be held, in George’s honour, at the Liverpool Irish Centre on 11 Oct 2019

Irish roots – a daughter’s tale

Eithne Browne is a Liverpool success story; star of stage and screen. Who better then, as a Liverpool-Irish orator, to act as an ambassador for the Liverpool Irish Festival? When we approached Eithne earlier this year, we were thrilled when she accepted the title of ‘Patron’ and came on board to offer her services to support the Festival. Together we created an event, this August at Sefton Park Palm House, thrilling guests with a stage show involving Eithne and friends in song, dance, skits and poetry. We’ve asked a few festival friends, including artists, performers and patrons, to share their story for our festival newspaper. Asked to think about her Irish connections, Eithne takes us on a journey through childhood and an actor’s career.

I must admit I was shocked when I was asked to be a patron for the Liverpool Irish Festival. I was honest; I haven’t spent much time in Eire since my forties (I’m now quite a bit older!). But the true connection, of course, is my father and he would be both pleased and proud, I think, to be involved! He was a fine man, a good father and a very dear friend to me. We spent a lot of time together; never forgotten and always remembered with a fond smile. I miss him. 

William Brendan Browne was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo on 18 June 1919, son of William and Mary Agnes Browne. Our family has a tradition of sticking to certain names, but more of that anon. They lived at Castle Road, still the family home. Dad was always referred to as Brendan and, at 16 years of age, he left Ballina to become a seafarer and never lived there again, though his heart and family called him home on a very regular basis (and we would go, too).

Wonderful summers were spent in Ballina and the surrounding coast and countryside. We would embark from Liverpool, sail overnight and alight in Dublin. Then -onto the train- to cross the country to Mayo. I always remember “change at Mullingar”. The station at Mullingar seemed to mark a halfway point and to me was the centre of Ireland. We’d arrive at Ballina, then all troop down to Morrison Terrace to Auntie Enna and Uncle Willy’s house. Now, two of their children were called Eithne and Mary (my sister a Mary, too), both similar in age. We’d pair up and you’d never know who was being called for, shouted at or anything; great for getting out of any trouble! 

Two things always stick in my mind from that time. One, being put on to the back of a huge shire horse, drawn up outside Morrison Terrace. I was about five years old –a timid child at the best of times- and terrified. I have never repeated the experience and do not ride to this day. Another was sliding in to the Moy River, which flowed along the bottom of the Terrace garden. I was about seven years old –again terrified- and no, I still cannot swim. The memory of going under and nearly drowning was ever present. I remember being very indignant as I was wearing a dress with a Noah’s Ark print all over it. It should have kept me exempt –and dry- I felt. 

I do not swim to this day.

We would spend days on Bartra Island, out in Killala Bay. We would row over in two or three boats, disembark and run free for the rest of the day. These were truly magic times for us. The men of the party would go fishing; the women set up campfires and blankets; unpack the hampers. And we would be sent to forage for mushrooms, spuds and crabs. We could climb and play on the beach or just sit on a blanket and read (me!). As the afternoon drew on we sat ‘round the fires, cooking and sharing the food. And the stories. My mother, Kitty, had a wonderfully fine voice and would be called upon to sing. A memory of being wrapped over in a blanket and cuddled up safe and warm and full of food and family. Thank you Bartra Island. 

Another favourite day was a trip to Enniscrone in Co. Sligo. I can remember running along the harbour walls and diving on to the beach. There was the horizon…and wind and sand and water and sky. No limits. A family photo shows us sheltering up against the wall – all plastic macs and bobble hats. It sometimes rained in Sligo!

The family also owned a small shop, which also served as a small bar, and above that busy establishment is where a few of us slept. When time for bed was called in Morrison Terrace we would cross the road and then enter by a garden gate. Ahead of us was the long, dark path through the vegetable garden and lit only by a torch. We would hurry up the scary garden to the welcoming light of the pub. [We’d be] sent straight through the bar and up the winding stairs (dark again) to a small bedroom. All in bed -whispers and stories and laughter and shouts- until “be quiet up there and get yourselves to sleep!” from Aunt Bridgie, who owned the shop. In the quiet, warm, safe dark, with the hum of voices and laughter down the winding stairs, we slept.

Our Irish life in Liverpool was centred around the Wellington Rooms on Mount Pleasant, known to us –of course- as the ‘Irish Centre’. Many Sundays were spent there to pick up a copy of The Irish Post; buy white puddings; take Irish dancing classes; listen to music that moved the heart. We would meet friends there; attend concerts. My eldest sister, Margaret, lived with Auntie Enna for over 6 months, attending school in Ballina and coming first in Gaelic! About 14 at the time, she didn’t want to come back, but going with her friends to the Irish Centre and [dancing] to the ‘showbands’ was a favourite of hers. My own son Neil, now 47, would spend Sundays meeting up with Nanny and Grandad and racing ‘round with the other young bucks there.

Another happy memory of Dad was an evening spent at the Philharmonic Hall. I’d been asked to sing as part of an evening celebrating Irish music. I had the joy of singing with the band The Cream of the Barley; lovely PJ and Stan Ambrose and the other fine musicians. Versions of Four Green Fields and Johnny I hardly knew ye; wonderful, rousing music. And then, on announcing I would like to sing an old Celtic song for an old Celt in the audience, there was a great cheer, led -I believe- by Jimmy McGovern (a fan of my Pa). I sang an unaccompanied version of She moved through the fair. I hope Dad liked it. Others did.

I last toured Ireland in a production of Wuthering Heights. Cathy was played by Caroline Milmoe (of Coronation Street fame). We all had a wonderful week in Dublin. One night Aswad –the reggae group- played on our stage set after we’d finished. I remember Caroline and me singing Joni Mitchell songs to the Liffey as we ambled our way back to the hotel. A lovely week made even better by a warm welcome and wonderful audiences. 

And then on to Belfast, where I was to give my governess, Nelly Dean, at the Grand Opera House that next week. Except, disaster struck. Feeling unwell during the performance on the Monday night, I ended up in hospital on the Tuesday. Despite my tears and cries of “but I’m on stage at the Opera tonight!” I was admitted and spent the next week in bed. It was my fortieth birthday on the Friday and it was spent in an isolation ward in the hospital. No celebrations –all planned in advance- I was in a small room on my own, surrounded by well-wishers’ flowers and cards. It looked like a chapel of rest! I had severe food poisoning, a very miserable time as no performer liked to be off stage. People would look in through the window. “That’s your one off Brookside!” and pass by. The staff were lovely though and [let] my cast mates in to see me every day. And, I lost a stone!

Another Irish connection, filmed almost 30 years ago, is at the Mersey Maritime Museum. I was asked to appear in a short, in-house film about the Irish Famine. I was unfortunately given a small bonnet to wear as my character, ‘Mary’. It sadly had the effect –once tied under my chin- of making me look like a little hamster. I did not look hungry in the slightest. In fact, with my little fat face I looked like the cause of the famine and not the effect. Plus the fact that my attempt at an Irish accent was woeful considering my parentage! My pronunciation of “starving” and “potatoes” made my Dad laugh out loud. Members of my family were brought down to the museum to stand, view and laugh at me.

But before I finish, let’s go back to Brendan. He is the heart of me and who I am. He was a brave, honest, trustworthy man. At sea all his adult life, he studied hard, passed all his exams to become a Master mariner, finally rising to the rank of Captain. He held pilot’s licences for many ports worldwide. We have a very moving recording of his words dealing with his personal experiences of the war, especially his time aboard the SS Fabian, which was torpedoed, causing the death of very close friends. I used part of that recently at a concert to fundraise for the festival at the Palm House in Sefton Park. I was researching the history of the 8th Liverpool Irish and found they landed on Juno beach, in France, on D Day on a ship called The Ulster Prince. My father was later the Captain of that same vessel carrying goods between Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool.

My final picture is of me on board such a vessel, about to set sail with my father at the wheel. In the back, you can see the Liver Buildings and that may be my Noah’s Ark frock!

I wish you a joyous festival. Our ties to Ireland are many and should be treasured and never forgotten-

“And if it falls unto my lot

That I should rise and you should not,

I’ll gently rise and softly call

Goodnight and may joy be with you all”.

The Parting Glass, 1600s, author unknown.

We would like to thank Eithne for joining us as patron; for developing this article and for her hard work on Quirky Cabaret: Celtic Crossings, which helped to raise much needed funding for this year’s festival. We are thrilled to have her as an ambassador and hope our friends and festival family will endeavour to support Eithne in her ongoing work. 

Eithne Browne tree-huggging at Sefton Park Palm House (c) Naomi McAllister

Join us for Quirky Cabaret: Celtic Crossings

To mark her unveiling as the new Liverpool Irish Festival patron, Liverpool Irish Actor, Eithne Browne launches Quirky Cabaret: Celtic Crossings, a night of music, song and laughter. 

Celebrating her paternal Irish connection -with songs and stories inspired by Ireland- Quirky Cabaret will take place at Sefton Park Palm House on Sun 18 Aug at 7pm (doors 6.30pm). With a number of guests, handpicked by Eithne (including Clare and Margaret Bowles alongside poet Ciarán Hodgers) the special cabaret is raising money to help subsidise this year’s Liverpool Irish Festival, which tries to keep much of its programme free to enter. Tickets are available to buy here

Held annually, the Festival is a registered charity and the UK’s largest arts and culture led festival of multidisciplinary Irish focused work. It returns in 2019 from 17-27 October, with a new theme: unique stories, creatively told.

Liverpool actor Eithne Browne was raised in Huyton. Her father was Irish and a mariner. Her first stage role was in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers at Liverpool’s Playhouse. Since then her credits have included Take Three Girls, Shirley Valentine, Wuthering Heights and The Vagina Monologues, through to television work in Brookside, Cold Feet and Emmerdale

Emma Smith, Director of Liverpool Irish Festival, says

“We are delighted to welcome Eithne as a patron to the Festival. As a festival we celebrate Liverpool Irish identity through art and culture and no one embodies this better than Eithne. Who else can tell their Liverpool Irish story better than a renowned raconteur and performer? Eithne’s Quirky Cabaret promises to be filled with performance, music, song and laughter – the perfect vehicle for Eithne to tell her story, her way”. 

Eithne Browne says, 

“When I was first approached to become a patron for the Liverpool Irish Festival I was quite shocked… Had there been a mistake? Had they got the right Eithne?

Upon being told that “yes”, it was me, I felt quite emotional. What an honour to be asked, but also, how I wished my father was still here to stand beside me. I hope to do his memory justice and also support a festival that brings us all together..  We have a way with words and songs and music.. We are celebrating our history and creating our future.”

Liverpool Irish Festival returns 17-27 October. Full details to be announced in Aug/Sept 2019.

Quirky Cabaret: Celtic Crossing is at Sefton Park Palm House on Sun 18 Aug 2019 at 7pm. Tickets are £12-£14 and can be purchased through Ticket Quarter here 


Family fun for half term

It’s half term in Liverpool, and there’s plenty of family friendly activity to look forward to at Liverpool Irish Festival.

This Saturday join us at Museum of Liverpool for our annual Family Day.

With craft activities, plays, monologues, music and dance; tours of Irish artefacts; screenings, talks; storytelling and a raft of fun things to engage in across the Museum, the day is fun, entertaining and informative. With something for everyone, from niche to popular, this is a core event we hope you will share with us.

Read all about it here.

The Family Céilí is one of the most popular events at Liverpool Irish Festival. This year it returns to our spiritual home of Liverpool Irish Centre.

Bring family, friends and your dancing feet to join the fun and have a go at learning some Irish céilí dances, complete with live music from Liverpool Comhaltas. No previous experience is necessary as full instructions will be given, from a great dance caller.

Tickets are just £5/£2

Book here

Treading the boards

Theatre is a huge part of Liverpool Irish Festival, especially with so many stories to be told and incredible Liverpool and Irish writers to tell them.

There’s compelling tales of history, of 1916 and The Troubles, of laughter, surrealism, of strong women and gamechangers, and, of course, a play inspired by Stephen Nolan.

Liverpool and Irish theatre is flourishing. Our programme is designed to showcase some of the finest established and emerging talent coming from places you might not expect. We’ve homegrown talent from both sides of the Irish Sea almost every night until the festival finishes.

Here’s the plays coming up this week …

Two Plays: Baggage and When Nora Met Jim
23 Oct
The Crown Hotel

#LIF2018 presents Baggage and When Nora Met Jim. Both plays have been written in Liverpool and feature local actors.  Expect this presentation to be low-fi in terms of tech, but high-fi in terms of impact. Strong performances, resonant texts and compelling stories.

Rat in the Skull
24 Oct
St George’s Hall Concert Room

Set in the midst of ‘The Troubles’, Rat in the Skull centres on an interview between a Royal Ulster Constabulary inspector and a young Catholic man in London detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Told from the point of view of an Ulster Protestant, it casts a new perspective on the struggle. Their sectarian differences fall away when confronted with ‘casual loathing’ of their English counterparts.

The Biggest Show in the Country
25 Oct
Downstairs at Royal Court Theatre

It’s 2018. Stormont is down.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are tied up in government with the Tories. GB is about to crash out of the EU. Polls show London and Dublin would rather the other deal with Northern Ireland, whilst international headlines scream ‘medieval province’.  Hardly great craic!

So, when an unexpected discovery changes the fortunes of Ulster, will people be ready for the emergence of Northern Ireland as a global superpower? Inspired by the infamous daily radio phone-in The Nolan Show, ‘The Biggest Show in The Country is a dark musical comedy that swaps guns, bombs and bullets for glitter, banter and ballads, whilst exploring what it means to be Northern Irish in 2018, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement.

This is a rehearsed reading of the script, not a full production. It is an opportunity to see artists at work and get an early insight in to the theatre making process.

25 Oct
Liverpool Medical Institution

Liverpool author, Carol Maginn (Daniel Taylor, Ruin), turns her sights to the 1830s and Derry woman Kitty Wilkinson.

Commemorating the significant influence Kitty played in Liverpool by helping to turn the tide on an epidemic spreading through the city; cholera. Echoing many of the class and gentrification issues still at large today, Kitty’s indefatigable work to help the poor of Liverpool in the face of terrific adversity continues to show how migrants help their destination cities, sometimes in unimaginable ways.

To Have to Shoot Irishmen
25-27 Oct
Liverpool Everyman

A new play with songs by Lizzie Nunnery. Easter morning, 1916. Gunshots ring out in the Dublin streets. In her suburban sitting room Hannah prepares for revolution. While Frank walks through the crowds calling for peace, John walks through his nightmares of the trenches, sees a city soaked in blood. 18-year-old William fearfully reports to the barracks for duty, determined to serve the British army with honour. But can honour survive the chaos of conflict, and once unleashed can violence ever be contained?  

Kíla to play only UK Autumn gig at #LIF2018

Celebrating their 30th year in 2018, one of Ireland’s biggest acts, Kíla, play their only Autumn UK event at Liverpool Irish Festival

One of the most beautifully euphoric live experiencesBBC World Review

Softly spoken off stage and complete lunatics on it, Kíla have torn up the rulebook with their wantonly eclectic mix of styles, Brilliant!Hot Press

Kíla bring their fresh blend of freewheeling instrumentals, furious jigs and primal rhythms to Liverpool Irish Festival on Fri 19 Oct 2018.  

Kíla are widely renowned for their live energetic performances and have played in over 30 countries in North America, Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe, notable festivals include The Montreux Jazz Festival, WOMAD worldwide, the Sziget Festival and closer to home Glastonbury and the Electric Picnic. Last year the band closed the Cambridge Folk Festival on their main stage. Kíla have also had the privilege of playing the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics, Dublin and Possibilities, the event that welcomed the Dalai Lama to Ireland. Alive – Beo, Kíla’s third live album and first on vinyl was released in 2017, and to promote it, they performed over sixty concerts.

Having collaborated with renowned artists including U2, The Dubliners, Shane MacGowan, Sinead O’Connor, Glen Hansard, The Corrs, Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey and a host of other artists, Kíla have worked extensively in TV and film, most notably on the soundtracks for animations The Secret of Kells (screened at #LIF2015) and Song of the Sea.

Kíla were formed in Dublin Gaelic secondary school Coláiste Eoin in 1988. Their unique and ever evolving sound, while rooted in tradition, is inspired by a myriad of musical influences worldwide. Kíla‘s eight members stem from the differing musical backgrounds, including Irish traditional, classical, folk and rock.

Doors 7pm. Bill Booth at 7.30pm. Kíla c.8.15pm.£21.50, Arts Club (Liverpool)

Buy your tickets here:

All the wonderful, shamanistic energy of the amazing Kíla'” NEIL JORDAN

Whatever it is… this is it. Kíla are right there at the cusp of it… Somehow you get the feeling they lit the fuse for the big bang.” BONO

LIVE VIDEO FOOTAGE Alive-Beo: Civic Theatre, Dublin

3Arena & Rio Loco Festival:


DOWNLOADS Electric Landlady

Deborah Frances-White and The Guilty Feminist

The Guilty Feminist lineup at #LIF2018


Say My Name is the movie written by Guilty Feminist host Deborah Frances-White. It was filmed in Wales by Jay Stern and produced by Lisa Brenner for Electric Entertainment last year and has been selected for inclusion by the prestigious Cardiff Film Festival where it is competing in the Welsh Feature Film category.

Deborah will be attending the screening on Saturday 20 October at 11:30am and will be participating in a Q and A after the screening alongside the film’s star and producer Lisa Brenner.

Very sadly, this means that Deborah will not be able to host the planned Guilty Feminist recording due to take place in Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival at 2:00pm on the same day. Despite her phenomenal abilities, she has been unable to master the art of being in two places at once.

But the audience in Liverpool need not be too disappointed. Deborah has arranged two hugely popular regular co-hosts to take the reins for her – Ireland’s Alison Spittle (“such a good-spirited nature that it’s nothing short of infectious”) and from Texas Kemah Bob (“filled with such confidence and overwhelming power”). They will be presenting a Guilty Feminist episode with all of the heart, humour and thought-provoking issues that you have come to expect. We know the audience will give them all their feminist support as well as supporting Deborah in her first feature film. 

Deborah promises to come back to Liverpool soon and is making plans to come back to next year’s Liverpool Irish Film Festival. 


Saturday 20 October 2018, 11:30am, University of South Wales (ATRiuM Building) 86-88 Adam Street, Cardiff CF24 2FN.  


Saturday 20 October 2018 2:00pm, Liverpool Playhouse, Williamson Square, Liverpool, L1 1EL


It’s the Travelling Life: A new exhibition of Liverpool’s Irish Traveller community

A new exhibition, curated by American artist Jona Frank, provides a rarely seen glimpse into the lives of women in Liverpool’s Irish Traveller communities today as well as snapshot of Irish Traveller culture from 25 years ago. The photographs, taken by Irish Traveller women and their children, provide an insight into a community – often on the receiving end of many assumptions and outside perspectives – showing a life of family and domesticity, captured during summer 2018.  

Shown in two locations, It’s the Travelling Life, is a collaboration with members of Liverpool’s Irish Traveller Community, Liverpool Irish Festival, Liverpool Mental Health Consortium and Irish Community Care. The relationship with the Irish Traveller community has developed from Irish Community Care’s ongoing work over the past two decades, developing a strong relationship and understanding of the community.

Jona Frank, Inside the Family Caravan (Tallaght, 1993)

The inspiration for the project was Jona Frank’s 1990s images of Irish Travellers in Tallaght, near Dublin. As that work turns 25, there was a desire to empower, instead of viewing them through a media lens or third party. Here, the community’s women document and tell their stories themselves. They chose to capture images of their day to day lives. Typically, focus is given to the lives of the men within Irish Traveller communities. Women -their domestic roles, family care, community rituals and routines- are not often given the same centre stage. Here, the images they have given us show the importance of family. Providing a sense of ordinariness they also hint at some of the darker aspects within the community, most notably the issue of mental health and suicide among young men and of the preoccupations and concerns of a marginalised community. A selection of works from Jona Frank’s 25 year old project will be shown alongside the 2018 pieces.

Jona Frank has curated the women’s photographs to best reflect the stories told by them. On seeing the photographs, she recognised the women had surpassed the brief to ‘tell a story that is important to you’ and were looking closely at their world. She said: “Setting out to do that may sound simple at first, but actually doing it is far from simple. Actually doing it requires a person to stop during their day-to-day tasks and think about what their story is, what their purpose is. It is celebrating the ordinary. It is celebrating a history and a course of life that others seem to quickly dismiss and disrespect. These women and children are taking a step back from being in their day-to-day to observe it, to look closely, to create a record and to share it with pride. That’s courage”.

It’s the Travelling Life project, 2018

As part of Liverpool Irish Festival, the project provides a platform for another strand of ‘Irishness’. Director Emma Smith says it is central to the ambition of the Festival to provide Liverpool Irish people with their own means to define their culture and voice. “Jona Frank is one of those empathic artists who has an ability to illuminate her subject’s heart and humanity. With this project we wanted to work with Jona to use her ability and capability to support community expression. The Liverpool Irish Traveller community is marginalised –generally and within the identity of Liverpool Irishness – so it important for us to recognise their unique vantage, provide space for their voices and support the artistic expression that came directly from them”.

For Irish Community Care, the project is part of their ongoing work with Liverpool’s Irish Traveller community. “We’ve built up a trust relationship with the families for over 20 years. We have worked with them, empowered them and listened to them to develop a greater understanding of how we can support them and in raising awareness of how important they are as a society. Women are the backbone of this community and provide a real strength within it but often don’t get a voice”.

Jona Frank, Tallaght, 1993. Image courtesy of the artist

Liverpool Mental Health Consortium, who organise the annual Liverpool Mental Health Festival, is committed to co-designing creative engagement around community wellbeing with members of diverse communities. Part of their remit is also to involve communities in researching the causes and effects of distress, and in implementing recommendations arising from the research. Development and Opportunities Lead, Claire Stevens, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting Irish Traveller women to share their stories with a wider public, to promote cross-cultural understanding, practical learning and creative, participatory opportunities. Thanks to all our partners on their project and, most of all, the women and families, who gave their time and energy to the project”.

It’s the Travelling Life will be exhibited at two venues in Liverpool.

At George Henry Lee’s the exhibition will open  from 18 Oct- 28th 2018 as part of Liverpool Irish Festival.

It will also be exhibited as part of the city-wide Liverpool Mental Health Festival ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ exhibition, taking place at The Brink from 11 October – 7 January 2019. The full Festival programme is at

The project is supported directly by each organisation and with specific funding from The Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council.