Irish Centres

Former site of Liverpool Irish Centre, Mount Pleasant (Ged Carroll/Flickr)








Leeds Irish Centre opened in the summer of 1970, replacing the previous Irish National Club in the city centre. By this point, according to the census, some 10,295 Irish-born people resided in Leeds. In recognition of the number of Irish migrants and their descendants, especially from the west of Ireland, in 1990, the Metropolitan District of Calderdale in west Yorkshire officially twinned with County Mayo.

From 1973, Leeds Irish Centre regularly appeared on television as the original venue for ITV's Indoor League: a blue plaque identifies the premises as a birthplace of televised dartsThanks largely to the advocacy of Leeds promoter John Keenan, the centre is also a celebrated music venue, and hosted Irish stars like Christy Moore and The Dubliners, as well as the likes of Oasis, John Martyn, and Curtis Mayfield.

During the Northern Ireland conflict, Irish centres in cities like Leeds suffered a backlash of popular hostility towards the IRA. Interviewed in the mid-2000s, longstanding Leeds Irish Centre manager Tommy McLoughlin remembered receiving threatening phone calls during the IRA bombing campaign of the 1970s. After the IRA assassinated Lord Mountbatten in 1979, McLoughlin recalled, the centre explicitly oriented itself towards the wider Leeds populace: 'I think what we started to do really from then on was to involve ourselves in the community’. For example, McLoughlin proposed that an Irish contingent join the Lord Mayor's Parade, with Irish dancing and music.

A long-established hive of community activism, Liverpool Irish Centre has faced many challenges throughout its history. From 1965, the original centre was based in the Wellington Rooms at Mount Pleasant in the city centre. The cooperative-run centre employed thirty people, with three stated aims: ‘To provide a place for Irish people to meet socially; to assist manufacturers of Irish goods to display and sell their goods in Liverpool and to lift the image of the Irish in Liverpool’. The centre hosted a range of activities, spanning Irish dancing, language classes, history groups, and Comhaltas groups for young musicians. It even had a recording studio for new local bands.  After receivers arrived in 1992, a rescue committee launched a herculean struggle for the centre's survival, but it eventually closed in 1997. The current Irish centre is at Boundary Lane, approximately two miles east of the city centre.

Like others across the country, Liverpool Irish Centre has been a base for community initiatives and charities combating hardships in the Irish community, especially in respect of financial hardship, accommodation problems, and loneliness and isolation. In 1989, for example, Irish Community Care Merseyside attained charity status. Under the persevering leadership of Breege McDaid and Mavis O’Connor survived the Irish Centre’s move from Mount Pleasant in 1997.

Tyneside Irish Centre (Ken Miller/Flickr)

In 1973, Irish immigrants in Newcastle established a community centre at Westmorland Road in the west end of the city, where many Irish labourers had lodgings. Established by curate Father Joe Travers, and with a £14,000 loan from Donegal-born contractor Joe McEleney, the centre served as a social hub, labour exchange, and advice and health centre. Phonsie and Anne Donnelly, natives of Derry and Tyrone, managed the centre in the 1970s, and oversaw its move to the current Gallowgate site – in the shadow of St James’ Park – in the 1980s. Their son, the late Dermott, entered the priesthood, while another son, Declan, is one half of the entertainment duo Ant and Dec.

The first Tyneside Irish Festival was held in 1987 as part of an effort among the diaspora to connect constructively with the broader Tyneside population. ‘We were trying to reach out and make connections with the wider community’, festival founder and club chairman Tony Corcoran remembers. ‘There was a lot of anti-Irish feeling at the time, which was not surprising because there was a war going on’.

With more than 4,500 members, Tyneside Irish Centre remains a thriving home for the intergenerational Irish community and a focal point for adult education, cultural initiatives, and labour and trade union events in the region. Organising Irish music sessions, and classes in Irish history, language, and dance, the centre hosts the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society. Its outreach project Raised on Songs and Stories connects older Irish people across the region, especially those who settled in the north-east in the 1950s and 1960s.

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