AN ANNIVERSARY dinner held at the Irish Embassy in London this week marked 50 years since the foundation of the Irish in Britain (IIB) organisation.
Hosted by Irish Ambassador to Britain, Martin Fraser, Diaspora Minister Sean Fleming was also in attendance for the gathering which brought together IIB members from across the country.
The event was also an opportunity for IIB - an umbrella organisation representing more than 100 Irish clubs, centres and charities across Britain – to launch its anniversary oral history heritage project.
The 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 from members of the Irsh community across Britain.
The result is an exhibition, ‘Look Back to Look Forward’ – 50 years of the Irish in Britain, which features 50 of these oral histories and will tour the country from next month.
In a speech made at the event, Minister Fleming highlighted the importance of the work of IIB and praised their project for its “emphasis on today and representing the Irish community in all its diversity”.
Susan Cahill, the Heritage Project Manager, told those gathered that the anniversary project was “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”.
Clips from two of the oral histories that will feature in the exhibition were played during the Embassy dinner.
Poet Laurie Bolger gave a reading of her poem Home which she wrote for the project.
Actor Jamie Beamish read the transcript of an interview with an Irish man who had lived in Camden’s Arlington House in the 1990s.
“With the audio long lost he and other leading Irish actors have recorded readings to bring the stories alive again today,” IIB explains.
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.
Th exhibition will open in London on November 1 at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith before touring to Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham throughout November.
To ensure people everywhere can access the exhibition IIB also be launching an online version, to coincide with the Lonndon opening.
All the oral histories will be deposited for permanent public access at the Archive of the Irish in Britain at London Metropolitan University.
For further information visit www.irishinbritain.org.