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Unveiling 50 Years of Irish Legacy in Great Britain

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is delighted to host this landmark exhibition that explores the personal stories, the struggles and the triumphs that have shaped the Irish community in Great Britain over the last 50 years.

The exhibition, created by the national charity Irish in Britain thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, also features contributions from notable Irish cultural figures, actors Siobhán McSweeney, Adrian Dunbar and Aisling Bea, broadcaster Terry Christian, musician Jah Wobble and Moth Poetry Prize Winner Laurie Bolger, who has composed a bespoke poem.

The stories featured within the exhibition are as inspirational as they are heart-breaking. Volunteers from the Irish community in Britain received special training to help them capture at-risk testimonies from the last half century which speak of the sacrifice, joy, challenges and crucial role the Irish have played in modern Britain.

Date: 11th April 2024 – 14th July 2024.
Times: 10am – 6:45pm (last entry 5pm)
Location: Celebration Gallery at EPIC
Cost: Entry to exhibition is included in general admission tickets.

Selected Themes

Home, Family, Identity

Finding Home

Irish immigration to Britain has a long, rich history, with the Irish community making significant contributions to British society. Some came to Britain to escape cultural conservatism, conflict or discrimination. Others left Ireland in a wave of youth emigration during the 1980s recession. Many newcomers initially expected a short stay, anticipating Ireland’s economic recovery, or an ultimate return to family roots.

Numerous Irish clubs and societies emerged after the Second World War, offering support and a sense of belonging to new arrivals, helping the Irish in Britain feel at home away from home.
Interviewee John Giltenan poignantly remembered: “I sat on the plane and I kept thinking to myself, is this really happening?”

Traveler site, Hackney, during visit by London’s Irish Women Centre, 1990s

Work

Building Britain, Building Lives

Anne Woods, District Nurse, September 1986

Britain saw an influx of Irish migrants in the post-war era. The Common Travel Area allowed Irish citizens to live and work freely in Britain. The NHS urgently needed nurses and by 1971, 31,000 Irish-born nurses made up 12 percent of all nursing staff in Britain. The aftermath of the war also increased demand for construction workers. Many Irish people faced discrimination – anti-Irish racism was common in British media and culture, and Irish migrants often worked in industries where blacklisting was commonplace.

Peter, ‘Arlington House’: “If it wasn’t for the Irish there wouldn’t be any tunnels and not many roads either”.

Pogues Concert at the National, Kilburn, 4 December 1986

Culture

Across the Irish diaspora, community organisations have strived to promote and celebrate Irish cultural heritage. Culture, encompassing music, sport, dance, literature and language has played a central role in expressing and preserving Irish identity in Britain.

The Irish have had a significant and lasting influence on British popular music. Many legendary British musicians and bands have Irish roots, contributing to the fusion of Irish sounds with folk, rock, punk, and other genres. Among many others, The Beatles, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Smiths, Oasis, Kate Bush and Ed Sheeran all boast Irish heritage.

London Irish Women’s Centre support Róisín McAliskey at Holloway Prison, 1997

Activism

Irish clubs and societies in Britain have served a crucial role for new migrants seeking kinship, support and a sense of belonging. These provided practical advice and support as well as celebrating Irish language and culture.

The Irish community in Britain has also been at the forefront of social activism for many years, passionately championing important causes both in Britain and in Ireland. LGBTQ+ migrants to Britain escaping cultural conservatism and legal barriers in Ireland were active in debates and campaigns. Many Irish women in Britain campaigned for abortion rights in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Today and tomorrow’s generation of the Irish in Britain will lead a dynamic and diverse community, shaped by a fusion of cultures and identities. These new migrants and their descendants interpret new ways to express who we are today.

Exhibition Events

Saint_Patrick_Catholic_Church

Irish Nurses in the NHS

11th May, 5.30pm

Join us for an evening exploring and celebrating the contributions of Irish people to the National Health Service and hear, from their own words, their experiences of hope, labour, and prejudice as they worked to create a new home and hone a new profession.

Irish-American Heritage Month

Work and Employment for Irish in Britain

31st May, 5.30pm

For centuries, the Irish served as a crucial ‘reserve army of labour’ contributing to Britain’s economic progress. Join us for a glimpse into the working lives of Irish emigrants and hear from them during this evening of reflection.

The Queer Irish Diaspora

The Queer Irish Diaspora

27th June, 5.30pm

Join us for a public presentation by Colm Molloy, Dublin Pride’s resident historian, archivist, and designer, who will share stories of Ireland’s Queer Diaspora, exploring the lives and experiences of those who left their homeland in search of acceptance, equity, and community.

st-brigid-around-the-world

A Word from Our Curator

“Look Back to Look Forward: 50 Years of the Irish in Britain is an incredibly timely exhibition that charts the highs and lows of Anglo-Irish relations since the early 1970’s from the perspective of those most keenly affected; the Irish community in Great Britain. As the rate of Irish emigration to Britain declines, and the Irish diaspora there matures, it has never been more important to record and celebrate the stories of those who have made it what it is. This is an exhibition not to be missed!”

Nathan Mannion, Head of Exhibitions and Programmes at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

Visit the exhibition at EPIC

This exhibition will be on display at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum from 11th April to 14th July 2024, general museum admission tickets required.

Irish in Britain is a national membership organisation for the Irish community in Britain. It campaigns and advocates for the Irish community on a range of issues – from welfare reforms to dementia services.

It works with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain and provides research, guidance and consultancy to Irish organisations, groups and societies across Britain to support their sustainability and growth.

This exhibition is supported by funding from the Government of Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs.