Category: Blog

Is the Irish language alive in Liverpool?

Many of you will have read campaigns about The Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland and will have views on national languages being spoken at home and abroad. Language itself can be a contentious subject; politicised and exclusionary for some, but ‘mother languages’ often transport people to happy places; to a loved one’s voice and to connections not brought about by any other sound. In this article, Festival Board member Siubhán Macauley explores her feelings towards Gaeilge and her use of it to connect with home.

The Festival publishes this piece within our culture remit, acknowledging Siubhán as a relevant voice for today. Her piece handles her feelings for and connections with the Irish language, at home and abroad. It chimes with work we are undertaking with Gael Linn, Conradh na Gaeilge and Tony Birtill (event link here), alongside our position of working with all aspects of ‘Irishness’. To find out more about The Irish Language Act, follow this link.

An teanga Gaeilge, beo i Learpholl/The Irish Language, alive in Liverpool:

This week, a family in Coventry won a significant legal battle to overturn a ban that prevented them using Irish wording on their mother’s grave. “In ár gcríothe go deo” was the phrase considered too inflammatory to include in a Coventry graveyard, without the English translation. I will give you the translation here, but by no means do I think that it cannot exist without it. “In our hearts forever” was the sentiment that best expressed -to that family through their mother’s tongue- in the Irish language.

The Chancellor of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry gave the reason behind his ruling: “Given the passions and feelings connected with the use of Irish Gaelic there is a sad risk that the phrase would be regarded as some form of slogan or that its inclusion without translation would of itself be seen as a political statement”. It feels like a statement more at home in the anti-Irish sentiment of 1950s and 1960s in Britain, and it is sad and shocking to see it still exist. It is in Margaret’s name, and for her family’s grit, that I write this article. Ní maith liom bhur dtrioblóid[1].

Mo chuid Ghaeilge…

The appearance of the case in media, and on social media, brought me to thoughts of my current relationship with Irish. The pandemic did for me what I imagine it did for a lot of people; reorganised some priorities. I was furloughed in May 2020 and threw myself into something I had lost almost all contact with over the course of 7 years living in Liverpool. Mo chuid Ghaeilge[2].

After years of studying Irish, attending summer Irish courses in the Donegal Gaeltacht, and even working there as Ceannaire[3] a few times, I came to Liverpool in 2013 ready to continue learning and using my Irish. I met with Tony Birtill, a Liverpool born Irishman who has dedicated much of his life to researching, promoting, teaching and speaking the language. Outside my halls in the first weeks of my first term, Tony taught me a few new words, amongst them “olldord” the word for double-bass; I was studying music at the time.


University, then work, and life, got in the way of the language for a number of years, and I am sorry to say that I lost words, phrases, and a wee piece of me. Now, those same bits of the language are coming back to me in aha moments. I’m overwhelmed with resources to be able to speak, learn and write in the language.

I use my Irish online on social media, and interact with people across the world who use Irish daily on sites like Reddit. I follow accounts online that give you bite-sized phrases, breakdown grammar structures and teach you using memes. I’m part of a huge Discord server (a group chatting platform) where lots of learners, native speakers and people with an interest in the language come together to chat, take lessons, and clarify things with each other. It’s an amazing place, run by people who love the language.

Personal connections

But most importantly, I meet every Monday evening on Zoom with a brilliant motley crew called Conradh na Gaeilge Learpholl (Liverpool’s Irish language Society), headed up by Tony Birtill, to talk about the craic of the week, and use the language naturally.  Each and every person that attends our comhrá cáinte[4] on a Monday night, and book club on a Thursday night, have their own reasons and personal connection to the language. Some of us are Irish, or have Irish heritage, and find Irish a way to understand our roots and connect us back to home. Others have an interest from a linguistics point of view, and take pleasure in the structures, grammar and rules of the language.

Native rights

But, unless you are actively learning and speaking the language, it is rare you get to hear na fuaimeanna áille[5] of the Irish language, as much as you hear talk about it. At home in Ireland, the language is highly politicised, and there are reasons for activism surrounding Gaeilge. Irish speaking Gaeltacht communities have about half the social infrastructure as the rest of Ireland, contributing to the rapid decline of native speakers in those areas.

An ongoing campaign to allow dual language street signs (English and Irish) has been met with furious backlash from some members of unionist communities. Organisations such as Conradh na Gaeilge and An Dream Dearg (The Red Crowd, a group whose main strapline is ‘Dearg le Fearg’ meaning ‘Red with Anger’) advocate daily on behalf of those whose speak the language every day, promoting their human rights to access the language and opposing the discrimination that Irish language speaking communities face.


And in Britain, too, it saddens and angers me to hear that the language is levered into the kind of thinly-veiled anti-Irishness that denied Margaret Keane’s family the right to remember her through an Irish saying, used to express solidarity with loved ones. It is incredibly hard to separate the language from its politics, but amidst all the news stories, it’s just a language. A way of communicating. It was there before colonialism, spoken every day throughout the country, and it is there after, spoken in the same way by the Gaeltacht communities.

The Irish language is a mode of communication, a means of exchange, and an attack like this on a minority indigenous language signals a lack of understanding of Irish communities, their native language and their heritage, or even a desire to understand. I was incredibly happy to learn during the week that the appeal to overturn the ban on Irish on Margaret’s gravestone had been successful, and that the way had been cleared for the family to remember Margaret in their way. Comhghairdeas leo![6]

Daily intentions

In my own language learning, it is incredibly important for me to understand the context, backdrop and nature of the language and attitudes to it. Every language sits within its context in time. But when we hear these stories, what we don’t hear is Irish itself. We don’t hear the sounds and the rhythms, completely different to those of English. For those of you who would like a taste of it, best to tune into RTÉ Raidio na Gaeltachta, a radio station serving the Irish language speaking communities in the Gaeltachta (You can hear speaking on this programme, here).

Ultimately, it is the language that makes the most sense to me (I’m still working on making sense through it!). I find myself in its worldview; in the way that it looks at things and talks about them. I want to speak the language, hear it, dream in it. Beyond the politics, I want to use it in my own life, with my own people.

I am lucky to have Conradh na Gaeilge Learpholl, and the expertise of Tony Birtill here in Liverpool, and groups of people whose passion for the language is evident.

Influence and chance to learn more

An Ghaeilge[7] has had a profound effect on Liverpool itself. Tony notes in his book An Ghaeilge i Learpholl/Irish in Liverpool that a street in the Baltic Triangle, after the mass emigration of the famine, was its own Gaeltacht, with all residents using Irish as their first language. I live close to this street and I take pride and reassurance in this piece of local history. Tony Birtill presents his revised book, as part of the 2021 Year of Writing, on Thursday 4 March, exploring the history of the language here in Liverpool. I implore you to come. Event link here.

Conradh na Gaeilge Learpholl recently advertised a free six-week beginner’s course in Irish. Places filled in two days, and the response was three times what we could accommodate. We were thrilled, and I am heartened to find that the interest and respect for the language is alive here in Liverpool where Irishness touches so many lives. It speaks to the liveliness of the language persisting; the willingness of people to get in touch with their heritage, and a bravery for approaching something new with enthusiasm. We would love you to join us as we speak it, celebrate it, learn and teach it. It’s yours as much as it is mine.

Get involved

Conradh na Gaeilge Learpholl would love to hear from you if you are interested in learning or speaking the Irish language with us. We currently have an intermediate-advanced group meeting (Mondays at 8pm) to chat and a book club (Thursdays at 8pm). We’ll be running beginner’s classes from March, and have an upcoming yoga session delivered in Irish (no yoga or Irish experience needed, just follow along!) at 6pm, 11 March. To join Conradh na Gaeilge Learpholl for any of these sessions, or just to say hello, please get in touch with us on [email protected]. You can find us on Twitter @LearphollCnaG and on Facebook.


[1] Sorry for your loss

[2] Mo chuid Ghaeilge: My Irish

[3] Ceannaire: Course leader

[4] Comhrá cáinte: Conversation circle

[5] The beautiful sounds

[6] Congratulations

[7] An Ghaeilge- The Irish Language

The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.

Uploaded 26 Feb 2021.

Retrospective future gazers

Sub-title: A quick, short, and linear exercise to map the Royal Charter’s failed-return to Liverpool against the history of weather forecasting.

<<<During lockdown, Derry-based Hong Konger, artist Edy Fung has used weather to help motivate her working cycles.

In doing so, she has studied meteorological history, finding links between Derry and Liverpool. Edy’s generated an essay on this, complete with archive images. This sustains a digital relationship with the Festival that began for #LIF2020, advancing our work with Art Arcadia, where Edy is a resident artist.

The connectedness of internationalism, nature and platforming female voices sits within the St Brigid’s Day ethos of progressive acts and equality. We thank Edy for her work and ability to express her layered thinking to bring us something thought-provoking, fascinating and unexpected. You can learn more about Edy at the end of this article.>>>

2020 has overwhelmed the world with how fast every aspect of our daily lives can change for a new normal.

After the pandemic, we have all learned to be humbled by external impacts and environments. Most of us in different parts of the world meandered our way through lockdowns; rethinking our new normal. We have had to learn to adapt to uncertainties, getting used to making our plans with spontaneity, but ready to have them canceled or postponed. It is difficult. We always want an answer for the future; while we look for ways to predict it -analytics, predictions, prophecies- these very methods demonstrate that the need for human beings to ‘imagine’ is inevitable.

My name is Edy; I am an artist who lives and works in Derry, Northern Ireland. I have begun research on exploring atmospheric patterns and their implication on societal and political shifts in macroscale*, bringing these discoveries into a personal, bodily and relatable scale. My artistic practice currently aims to connect human sentiments, affect, weather, politics, science, and technology after the Anthropocene^. This piece of writing, commissioned by the Liverpool Irish Festival, will form the foundation of another online collaborative project: The Meteorological Cartomancer that looks at the beauty of chance and collective feelings. Perhaps, borrowing from the temperament of the Greek Tragedy aesthetic form, I am making some reflections for this day and age; arising from the story of the storm that hit the Liverpool-bound Royal Charter (ship) in 1859 on its journey through the Irish Sea, to incidents concerning geographies of both sides of the water.

* involving general or overall structures/processes, rather than details.
^ the geological time during which human life has impacted the earth.

Image: The Liverpool and Australian Navigation Company’s Steam Clipper, The Royal Charter; 2719 Tons. Registered 200 horse power. By Francis Boyce Commander, (CC BY-NC-SA) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (

This is an attempt to trace our desire to foresee the future during uncertain times. It documents the first time in history that humanity came close to future ‘prediction’ with a scientific foundation. I am drawn to look into the 1859 storm that shipwrecked Royal Charter in the Irish Sea. Prior to this, the weather was believed to be an act of God and if a storm came, so be it. This storm -and the resulting shipwreck- holds a vital place in pushing advancement for what is known today as ‘weather forecasting’.

The Royal Charter was a steamship built in Sandycroft Ironworks, on the River Dee, as one of the fastest ships at the time. On the evening of 25th October 1859, the steamship was bound to make the last leg of its 60-day cross-continental journey from Australia. When it left Queenstown -in the south of Ireland- to return home to Liverpool, it encountered a gale so fierce that it rose to a hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort Scale (devised by Irish hydrographer Francis Beaufort in 1805), pushing the ship towards Anglesey (Wales), causing it to sink.

Here, I am excavating materials from the MET archive, starting with one of several (consistent) testimonies documented from people from Wales and Ireland, who recalled the weather and witnessed something more unusual before the storm:

On Tuesday, 25th, I could perceive nothing at all unusual in the appearance of the weather, till, at half-past seven, when in the neighbourhood of Ballinamar and Ballyporeen, about, I should say, 12 or 14 English miles west of Athlone, the sky being free from clouds, I saw, in the direction of the Pleiades, a meteor. At first, when I saw it, it was about the size of a star of the first magni­tude; it advanced swiftly towards me for about four or five seconds, rapidly increasing in size, and appeared to be coming so straight towards where I was that it created alarm; the colour was an intense white light, similar to the electric spark. At the end of the first four or five seconds it changed colour to a bright ruby red, and it seemed (but of this I could not speak positively) then both to change its course and to lose its velocity; while the red colour remained was not more than one-and-a-half to two seconds. It then burst into about, I should suppose, 15 or 16 bright emerald green particles, which, after remaining visible for about two more seconds, disappeared altogether. I saw nothing  more that night. I arrived at Athlone about 12 o’clock, and up to that period the sky was quite clear and calm, and there was not the slightest appearance of storm. I was much astonished to hear, on my arrival in Dublin, on the night of Wednesday, 26th, of the violent storm that had taken place on the coast of Wales. […] I could not but think that the fall of the meteor had some connexion with the storm”. 

— Thomas. T. Carter (Annual Report 1862, page xl).

This Royal Charter shipwreck, which occurred in the Irish Sea during the closing leg of an incredible adventure back to Liverpool, is linked to the emergence of weather forecasting. The MET Office was not established properly at the time, in the way we understand its function today; it was a position that Robert Fitzroy was taking as the ‘Meteorological Statist’ (Fitzroy’s term), advisor to the Board of Trade for the marine industry and the military. Responding to the Royal Charters demise, Fitzroy worked intensively to understand how how the shipwreck could have been prevented. He wanted to avoid further tragedies in the future. Next, we will see in more detail his research on new methods of using barometers, and his invention of meteorological telegraphy and weather map that led to the existence of the weather forecasting system.

Under pressure: Barometers

In the 19th century, barometers were used inside boats and ships to detect the change of the atmospheric state, mostly for localised usage. These were the instruments most closely associated with a scientific method, reliable enough to provide “some definite idea of the amount of change which indicates unusually violent wind”. Such barometers could react and fall at the rate of nearly a tenth of an inch an hour before the shift of wind occurred. Fishermen and sailors would take this drop of pressure as an indicator of a storm, so they could decide whether to proceed the voyage or to find shelter.

Advertisement for Barometers by John Patrick, c.1705-1715. British Museum, The Ilbert Collection. Accession number 1958,1006.3050. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Admiral Fitzroy’s storm barometer. Face-on detail of top half; grey background. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.
Fitzroy’s illustration of ‘Cautionary Signals’, from Report of The Meteorologic Office of The Board of Trade, 1863 © The MET Office archive.

Cautionary Signals, Storm Telegraphy, Lighthouses  

In February 1861, Cautionary Signals were initiated.

According to the report of Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade, Fitzroy tried to argue his case about the idea of giving storm warnings using telegraphy before 1836, in American and Europe, “Yet the subject attracted too little popular interest to be taken up by any influential body until September 1859.” (Annual Report 1862, page xi). We do not know the reason why these telegraphic storm warnings were not adopted earlier. The system of measuring wind conditions was already created by Francis Beaufort (an admiral from County Meath, Ireland), but only appeared in his diary in 1806, kept private in navy logs instead of broader application. He created the ‘Beaufort Scale’ to estimate the force of the wind, in a range from 0 to 13. The Royal Charter Storm was classified -under Beaufort Scale- at number 12. In 1859, the same year as the shipwreck, the British Association for the Advance­ment of Science finally proposed to the government a trial plan by which the approach of storms might be telegraphed to distant localities. By 1862 20 stations were built to establish the telegraphic communication of meteorological facts.

By 1863, more barometers and stations were dispersed on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. Locations sending cautionary storm signals -through both electric and magnetic telegraphs- reached 97, including 24 in Ireland (some of which today remain as lighthouses). Blacksod Lighthouse (County Mayo) was constructed in 1864, becoming the first land-based observation station in Europe, where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. It became famous for reporting the fierce weather that delayed the Normandy Landings and saved D-Day. What would Fitzroy say about his legacy if he could see that his application of storm telegraphy had affected the ability of trained personnel to change the course of a world war? It was more than merely saving us from a natural disaster, but also humanitarian and political catastrophe when these telegraphic signals came to function.

Blacksod Lighthouse, County Mayo, Ireland. Photography © Bryan Hanna.

As good as the technological advancement was, a data cloud did not exist at the time. However, their name today suggests a historic connection to these meteorological transfers and the early days of communications, continuing to demonstrate the importance of the Royal Charter’s legacy.

The first network of meteorological communications has laid the foundation for development towards the concept of a global system of interconnected computer networks; the internet and global information storage. The archive revealed Fitzroy’s continuous contact with observatories including Paris, Berlin, Rostock, Hanover, Turin, Copenhagen, and Gothenburg. Some of his correspondence with Urbain Le Verrier can be read in the 1864 report. Le Verrier is recognised as the pioneer who proposed the concept of a chronological map for storms and weather changes. These are some of the first data visualisations and analytics, now traceable in our data clouds (I am doing this exercise).

Weather Maps

The following are some maps that Fitzroy made to analyse -retrospectively- the Royal Charter’s devastating storm, looking at changes between 25th and 26th October 1859. The arrows were drawn to indicate the wind direction as well as the strength of the wind (in proportion to the length of the line).

Synoptic Chart of the storm that shipwrecked the Royal Charter, showing the British Isles in the wider context of the Atlantic Ocean. The Meteorologic Office of The Board of Trade 1864 © The MET Office archive.


Synoptic Chart of the storm that shipwrecked the Royal Charter, showing (in a closer scale) the British Isles. The Meteorologic Office of The Board of Trade, 1864. © The MET Office archive.

These maps were called ‘synoptic charts’, according to Fitzroy, providing a visual synopsis of the weather observations at a or any given time. The below chart by Fitzroy is claimed to be the oldest in the MET collection, suggesting that he could be the first inventor, after Urbain Le Verrier’s vision, of what we understand today as the weather maps. However, it is Francis Galton who is recognised as the first devisor of the weather maps instead (in the method same as today), and he wrote the 1863 book Meteorographica, or Methods of Mapping The Weather in the similar times as Fitzroy’s research. Galton was appointed to substitute Fitzroy’s position and the pivotal figure in the development of weather forecasting in the later years by focusing on remedying the speed and capacity of data collection.

To see these charts as gifs, showing the air movement, click here.

Royal Charter gale, synoptic chart; 26 October 1859. © The MET Office archive.








Weather Forecasting

“In August 1861 the first published “forecasts” of weather were tried; and after another half year had elapsed for gaining experience by varied tentative arrangements, the present system was established. Twenty reports are now received each morning (except Sundays), and ten each afternoon, besides five from the Continent. Double forecasts (two days in advance) are published, with the full tables (on which they chiefly depend), and are sent to six daily papers, to one weekly,—to Lloyds,—to the Admiralty, —and to the Horse Guards, besides the Board of Trade“ (Annual Report 1862, page v).

The term “weather forecast” was coined by Fitzroy. Taken for granted today, few of us can imagine that weather forecasting was an impossible concept and so ahead-of-its-time that it encountered plenty of skepticism and restraint. When the first public weather forecast was published in August 1861; its reception was not smooth and was been challenged for a period. Fitzroy had to state, repetitively, that the ‘weather forecast’ differed from general scientific methodology and should be considered as precautionary advisement – “prophecies or predictions they are not:—the term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of a scientific combination and calculation”.  To quote Fitzroy’s own words from 1863:

Many may ask—” Is this system of weather telegraphy sound and advantageous ” ?—If so, why is it opposed? There are no less than four distinct classes of interested opponents, and they should be known. First:—Certain persons who were opposed to the system theoretically at its origin, and having openly expressed, if not published, their objections, are naturally reluctant to adopt other ideas until converted. Secondly.—A numerous body who cannot have had time and opportunity to look tally into the rationale, but do not realise any want of special information, undervalue the subject, assert it to be a “burlesque,” and misquote really great authorities. Thirdly.—A small but active party which failed in establishing a daily weather newspaper indirectly opposed to the Board of Trade reports, and have since endeavoured, by conversation, by letters, and by elaborate criticisms in newspapers or periodicals, to exaggerate deficiencies, while ignoring merit in the works of this office, however beneficial their intended objects. And fourthly, those pecuniarily interested individuals or bodies, who would leave the Coasters and the fishermen to pursue their precarious occupation heedlessly—without regard to risk—lest occasionally a day’s demurrage should be caused unnecessarily, or a catch of fish missed for the London market. 14. Especially referring now to persons who would have the warning signals, but not the ” forecasts” (results of considera­tions on which the signals depend), may I quote from my “Weather Book” the following words?—”Frequently, remarks in favour of the cautionary signals, but in depreciation of the forecasts, have been made. Their author now begs to say that it is only by closely forecasting the coming weather, and by keeping atmospheric condition continuously present to mind, that judicious storm warnings can be given. Forecasts grow out of statical facts, and signals are their fruitWeather Book, p. 193. Second edition. (1863 page v)

Less than a year after publishing The Weather Book: a manual of practical meteorology, Fitzroy died by suicide. Despite having proposed the idea of having the central office, to gather weather information (the MET office’s function today), he did not live long enough to see it. The literature he left us reveals his frustration and the great deal of difficulty he faced, while painstakingly realising an accurate weather forecasting system. Similar to the rise of today’s ‘cancel culture’ many rejected its merits, missing the goodwill and opportunities weather forecasting provided to change things for the better. It took a long time to gain traction, until public forecasts were produced in 1879, and became reliable in the 20th century after 30 more years of data accumulation.

Weather forecasting in today’s definition is “the application of current technology and science to predict the state of the atmosphere for a future time and a given location” (Science Daily). The use of both deterministic and probabilistic models is, nowadays, common and continually improved in applications beyond the weather, such as population, economy, energy forecasting and even in the betting industry. Provided the accuracy and the period (normally up to 14 days) that contemporary weather forecast can achieve, we are accustomed to treating the weather reports as valid predictions and make our plans around them. Perhaps this has also fueled our beliefs in the capacity of knowing the future in advance, as long as we have enough scientific tools. Then -logically speaking- one has to believe that the future is fixed and unchangeable, all to be determined by whatever data we have today, if we carry on with our obsession to predict something.

While it might be useful to know the future, we should imagine possibilities -and take positive actions- regardless of whether the future is predicted or not. Like the weather, a lot of things -viruses, traffic, public opinions- operate in a chaotic system; a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. History tells us that working with others, through long-term back-and-forth dialogues (sometimes cross-nationally towards a common goal), was crucial to confront macroscale events and reach solutions together for the betterment of society.

In this difficult time of the Coronavirus pandemic, would it not be more effective if we work together globally, using the best of our technologies, to find future-proofing solutions despite the naysayers, detractors, and decriers? Let us not stop listening to each other, no matter how far we are apart as we are all interconnected, prone to the same danger(s) on this planet.

Fitzroy’s illustration of air currents over the British Isles. From Robert Fitzroy, The Weather Book: A Manual of Practical Meteorology, 1863.


Fitzroy’s illustration of the Air Currents over the British Isles. From Robert Fitzroy, The Weather Book: a manual of practical meteorology, 1863.

Edy Fung

Edy Fung is a multi-disciplinary artist, musician and curator currently based between Derry and Stockholm. She has worked in the conservation of historical buildings and heritage mainly in County Donegal for three years, after graduating from an MA in Architecture at the Royal College of Art. Working at the interface between the physical and the digital, her practice seeks to understand how our material world is conditioned. These include exploring underlying systems, ecologies, ideologies and technological shifts that are dominating our everyday values. She works with images, videos, sound, text, installation and exhibition-making, treating them as ingredients and tools to test her inquiries and speculations about the present world phenomena.

This work was funded by the Irish Government‘s Emigrant Support Programme‘s creative community fund.
#CreativeCommunitySince the onset of Covid-19, cultural organisations and artists have suffered a lack of creative opportunities because of restrictions on arts venues and engagements. #CreativeCommunity is a once-off initiative by the Embassy of Ireland to Great Britain, the Consulate General of Ireland (Cardiff), and the Consulate General of Ireland (Edinburgh) that provided creative opportunities for Irish artists living in Britain to produce cultural content, shared online. Through Creative Community, the Embassy of Ireland in London and the Consulates General in Edinburgh and Cardiff have supported arts and culture-focused projects with eight organisations, directly engaging with at least 40 Irish creatives across Britain to produce and show their work.
The artists Liverpool Irish Festival has commissioned using this programme, include: Cathy Carter / Andrew ConnallyEdy Fung (via Art Arcadia)Alison Little / Maz O’ConnorCiara Ní ÉThe Sound Agents. The links will take you to the individual commissions.

DJ Arveen Juthan interviews London Irish man, Derek.

Deserted Island Discs – a support for islanders

In May 2017, the Liverpool Irish Festival were delighted to be able to attend the Irish Government’s Global Forum; a conference that brought together organisations from around the world that support the Irish Diaspora. As well as meeting people from the Irish Centre in New York, social workers from Australia and many more besides, we were delighted to meet representatives from Mind Yourself, a London based support organisation, with a great creative project, which we thought might be of interest to our readers. Here, Judith Orr outlines that project.

The Irish community in Britain has made a huge contribution to the life, culture and wealth of Britain yet it faces specific physical and mental health problems. The last census shows that Irish people have the highest median age of any other ethnic group, which reflects the fact that more than 50 percent of Irish people in Britain emigrated from Ireland before 1970. Irish people are also overrepresented in crisis mental health services and in-patient admission for depression, meaning that of those patients suffering with ‘levels of crisis’ a higher proportion of admissions will be of Irish descent. There are many suggested explanations. Irish people are sometimes less likely than others to go to a doctor if they have a problem – physical or mental – but in particular, the stigma attached to mental health issues means that often people will be forced seek help only once they reach some sort of crisis. This is mirrored with, for example, cancer diagnosis and care for which people often put off going to mainstream medical services for help until curative care is unavoidable.

Mind Yourself is a charity that supports the health and wellbeing of Irish people in London, the city with the largest Irish community in Britain. We address the health inequalities experienced by Irish people in many different ways. Social isolation is a problem, particularly for many older Irish people, who the census shows are disproportionately more likely to live alone. We combat this with varied group activities, from creative writing, history themed walks to art and music sessions. We also offer one-to-one support for those that need it.

We have found that men in particular find talking about themselves, their life and health difficult, so we launched a project called Deserted Island Discs, with the aim of encouraging Irish men to talk their lives and experiences through the music that has influenced them. It’s an oral history project with a musical twist and it’s been a great success. Dublin born DJ Arveene Juthan interviewed the men, all from different backgrounds with their own unique life stories. Each sound file brings alive the varied circumstances that brought people from all over Ireland to find a future in Britain.

The Deserted Island Discs project concentrated on men, as they are often hardest to reach in terms of expressing their feelings and fears, but all our other projects work with men and women. It’s interesting that Irish emigration to Britain stands out, because of the number of women who came alone to find work, something that is more unusual among other emigrant communities.

Some arrived in London when the city was still recovering from the bombing of the Second World War, and those memories are still vivid. Many of the Irish people in Britain who arrived during the 1950s and 60s remember how many Irish people were treated when they looked for jobs and homes. The legacy of the prejudice many experienced is also explored reflecting a time when Irish people in Britain were often treated as a “suspect community”. Others talk about the pressing need to earn money to help support their family from an early age.

These life stories are interwoven with the men’s selections of music, which often represent the different times of their life’s journey. The music choices span from traditional Irish songs to soul classics to pop, and include among them a barman and a craft brewer, a librarian and a celebrity chef.

After a showcase event for the project, where an audience heard extracts of interviews and music, creator and producer Arveene edited each interview into a single episode. We are treated to a glimpse of the paths taken; of the regrets and joys and the meaning of being Irish in Britain today. Each episode is being posted online so there is a permanent record of these memories and moving testimonies that can reach a wide audience.

To stream or download Deserted Island Discs from the Mind Yourself website, click here.

This piece was composed by Judith Orr, Fundraising and Events Officer, Mind Yourself. Judith joined Mind Yourself in August 2016. She grew up in Belfast in Northern Ireland and moved to London in 1977 to do a BSc in Psychology at University College London and has lived in the capital ever since. She has worked in many different fields including publishing and bookselling. Her interests are politics, writing and reading.

If you are interested in learning more about Mind Yourself visit: or email [email protected].

More information

For anyone concerned about their or a loved one’s mental health, please be aware services are available in Liverpool. Irish Community Care ( works with both the Irish (including people of Irish descent) and Irish Traveller communities and the wider community.

In partnership with the Comedy TrustLiverpool Irish Festival also support a project for men, called Feeling Funny – a course designed to enable men to find routes in to telling their personal stories and exploring their feelings and histories in a safe and supported environment. To find out more, click here.