Friday 22 November 2019

The Irish are not coming, they're already here

New wave of Irish in the UK are educated, ambitious and settled

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Joe O'Shea

A world record crowd at Wembley, green jerseys and familiar accents everywhere on the Tube and on streets across London. But with the Rugby World Cup in full swing, it's not a case of "the Irish are coming", it is just confirmation they are already here.

The Olympic Stadium in East London will be deep green this Sunday as Ireland take on Italy.

And many will not have had to travel too far, taking the bus, tube or over-ground from Hackney, Brixton, Shepherd's Bush or Clapham (now known as "County Clapham" thanks to the big Irish population that live there).

They are the New London Irish, the most recent wave of arrivals, some of the 89,400 Irish citizens who moved to the UK in the five years to 2013 (to put that figure in perspective, it's as if the entire population of Galway city - plus 15,000 from the county - moved across the Irish Sea).

Britain remains the number-one destination for Irish emigrants. And with one in six Irish-born people now living abroad (the highest figure of any OECD country), that translates to a lot of Irish accents on the streets of London, Manchester and Birmingham.

Gary Dunne has been the arts programmer with the London Irish Centre for five years. He works with the St Patrick's Day Festival and programmes comedy, arts and music events with an Irish slant all over London.

He says that while there were similar waves during recessions in the 1950s and 1980s, the arrivals since 2008 do not (mostly) fit the old stereotype of the Irish migrant in Britain.

"With this latest wave, the expectations are much higher. They are mostly well educated, well-travelled, ambitious, they expect to do well and they know the opportunities in London are endless, there is no ceiling," says Gary.

"You can come with energy, talent, ambition and you can really build a strong career and a good life for yourself.

"And the amount of Irish in London, those who have come since the crash, is crazy. I'm constantly meeting them at the events I organise and a lot of them are working at the top in TV, in banking, in graphic design, the technology sector.

"You see a confidence in them, they still like to connect with Ireland, bring their non-Irish friends along to music or comedy gigs, but they are happy to be living in London and with the lifestyle and opportunities that it offers them."

There are many success stories. Chef Robin Gill and his wife Sarah, both from Dublin, now run three of the hottest restaurants in London.

Robin (35) has just been named UK Chef of The Year by 'The Good Food Guide'.

London-based Irish architects John Tuomey and Sheila O'Donnell are the 2015 winners of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, the world's most prestigious architecture award.

They are not recent arrivals to London, but have encouraged and mentored a next generation of young Irish talent.

A 2014 report by researchers at UCD looked at the 'Next Generation' Irish diaspora. It found that those involved in business networks found the new wave of Irish in the UK to be well educated, ambitious and ready to travel to further their careers.

They may be open to returning to Ireland at some stage - but do not see a good work or family life for themselves there now.

Kildare man Alan McBride moved to London in early 2013 with his then fiancée.

Alan had been made redundant from Glanbia in 2009, went back to college in Maynooth and then decided that London was the place to go.

"There was nothing happening at home and my girlfriend had already gone to London in my last year in college. She couldn't get anything at home but got the first job she applied for in London," says Alan (29).

Now working as a town planner and about to finish his masters at the University of Westminster, Alan says he "can't believe" how many Irish people his age there are in the UK capital.

"You can't move for the Irish over here now. Even my local pub here in Haggerston, the Fox, is owned by two lads from Cork.

"It's tough when you come over first, being in a huge city where you don't really know anybody. But you make friends quickly, there's so much to do here and the Irish networks are very strong. We would see our long-term future here."

Alan is still trying to find a ticket for the game on Sunday, but if all else fails, he will watch it in his North London local.

The wide boulevards leading up to the Olympic Stadium in East London will be thronged with Irish tomorrow, as will traditionally Irish pubs, such as The Faltering Fullback in Finsbury, Philomena's In Covent Garden or The Blythe Hill Tavern in Lewisham.

But while the London Irish will pack in pubs across the city to cheer on their rugby team, that old way of confining themselves to 'Irish' strongholds, the Cricklewoods and Kilburns of the past, is gone.

The New London Irish are spread out all over the vast city, in the hipster hotspots of Shoreditch and Brixton, in Hackney and upmarket Chelsea or the more suburban neighbourhoods towards the end of the tube lines.

And on Monday morning, they will be going back to work, in the tower blocks of the City, in TV production companies, architectural offices, restaurants, top end hotels or the site offices of many of the city's huge construction sites.

Irish Independent

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