Irish migration to Britain
Throughout history, Irish migrants have travelled backwards and forwards to England and many settled permanently, making a living, marrying and raising children. In the towns and cities of England, migrants from throughout the island of Ireland were drawn together by missing home, and the warmth of a shared culture.
Over the years Irish came to flee famine, poverty and war. In the 1950s there were jobs to be found in post war Britain. Later, in the 1960s, England became a Mecca for those seeking escape from closed rural culture. For those seeking accommodation in a strange city, the signs “No Blacks, no Dogs, no Irish” spelled out the cold prejudice that led new migrants to seek out the company of their fellow Irish in clubs and societies.
The Federation of Irish Societies was founded in 1973 when northern and southern federations of Irish societies met at the London Irish Centre and amalgamated to form a single national body.
With the support of the newly-launched Irish Post newspaper, local groups gained awareness of Irish across the country and developed the self-confidence - not of emigrants always looking backwards but of a community, looking to the future. In the early days, when societies were beginning to acquire their own premises, the priority was to gain expertise in the management of Irish centres and to provide appropriate entertainment for the membership.
Impact d the conflict in Northern Ireland on the Irish community in Britain
The shootings in Derry on Bloody Sunday shocked Irish people everywhere. As the civil rights gave way to internment, civil war and IRA bombs in English cities, the Federation had to cope with a new sense of fear. The Irish point of view was isolated and anti-Irish sentiment often turned to violence. The use and abuse of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) against all Irish in Britain heightened community tension and created infamous miscarriages of justice. The Irish community took the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire family and many others to their hearts, eventually winning their freedom.
In 1983 the Federation changed the non-political clause in the constitution to read "non-politically aligned". This change allowed Officers to make a written submission to the 1983 New Ireland Forum seeking alternatives to conflict. The Federation also made submissions to the reviews of emergency legislation conducted by Lord Jellico and Viscount Colville. The Federation called for repeal of the PTA.
The mid 1980s heralded a new increase in emigration from Ireland. While many of the new arrivals were well equipped for the move, a sizeable portion were in great need of advice, support and guidance. Through our Community Care network, the Federation found itself at the forefront in the provision of support to those in need. The Community Care Committee continues to be central to the delivery of services to disadvantaged members of the community. The founding of the Irish Housing Associations: Irish Centre Housing, Cara, Innisfree and An Teach marked a real breakthrough for the community.
FIS Cultural Activities
Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, the Federation's cultural arm was extremely active. Events included the organisation of a tour of Britain in 1981 by Siamsa Tire, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, Siamsa Cois Uisce - a three week Irish Festival at the Watermans Art Centre in London in 1985 and a week-long festival of drama in Coventry in 1985. Two further festivals were organised at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith in 1989 and 1990.
Something about out community care work in here
Formal meetings with the Irish Government began in 1983 and have since been held annually. Contact with British Government officials followed and in recent times these contacts have been more frequent. Quarterly meetings are held with the Irish Ambassador on matters relating to the Irish community in Britain.
The Federation of Irish Societies attends meetings of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly and has been represented on the Home Office Race Relations Forum.
A key issue for the community was the introduction of an Irish category in the last census. The Federation campaigned actively for this and succeeded in having it included. In recent years the Federation has produced quality research highlighting the causes of need amongst the disadvantaged in our community. We have also developed close links with a number of key British cultural institutions.