Our oral history heritage project, made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has trained more than 60 volunteers in oral history collection, and recorded over 100 interviews.
An exhibition, ‘Look Back to Look Forward’ – 50 years of the Irish in Britain will feature 50 of these oral histories. This opens in London on 1 November at the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith, and will then tour to Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham throughout November.
Ambassador Martin Fraser welcomed the attendees from across the Irish community and congratulated Irish in Britain on its anniversary. He was joined at the celebratory dinner by Ireland’s Minister of the Diaspora Seán Fleming.
Minister Fleming pointed to the importance of the work of Irish in Britain and its member organisations in the community.
He highlighted and praised the project’s “emphasis on today and representing the Irish community in all its diversity” and talked of how hearing people tell their life stories as oral history has the power to resonate with others.
Susan Cahill, the Heritage Project Manager emphasised the value of oral history saying:
“It’s a way of capturing emotion, diverse points of view, a way of telling the stories of people who often get forgotten by the broader strokes of conventional history.”
Attendees heard clips from two of the oral histories that will feature in the exhibition, and a recording of the poet Laurie Bolger reading her poem, Home, written especially for the project.
Actor Jamie Beamish read the transcript of an Irish man who had lived in Camden’s Arlington House from an interview in the 1990s. The audio is long lost and he and other leading Irish actors have recorded readings to bring the stories alive again today.
Attendees included the charity’s Patron, Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, who has been at the forefront of celebrating the contribution of Irish nurses to the NHS, as well as many other representatives of Irish community organisation across Britain.
In his remarks Brian Dalton CEO talked about why Irish in Britain had launched the oral history project, the most ambitious of its kind in the Irish community in Britain, saying:
“Irish migration history is central to story of modern Britain, a story that is shared with those from the commonwealth in the rebuilding of Britain after the Second World war. Significantly, Irish in Britain’s 50th anniversary is also the year that celebrates the 75th anniversary of Windrush.
“That is why these migrant histories are not outliers; they sit at the heart of the human story today, shaping every continent around the world today. And yet, and I think it’s been the case here in Britain, they are not always represented, or otherwise often misrepresented.”
To ensure people everywhere can access this exhibition Irish in Britain will be launching an online version on the 1 November also, to coincide with the London opening.
All the oral histories will be deposited for permanent public access at the Archive of the Irish in Britain at London Metropolitan University.
If you would like more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org