Celebrating the Irish Community in Birmingham: A Personal Perspective

The Library of Birmingham and Shard End Library have arranged a programme of events to coincide with the City’s Saint Patrick’s Festival.  This annual event culminates in the famous Parade which attracts thousands of visitors each year and which has become the third largest in the world, surpassed only by those in Dublin and New York.

The Irish Centre, Birmingham (MS 4672)

The Irish Centre, Birmingham
[MS 4672]

Birmingham’s Parade and much of Irish cultural life centres on Digbeth and Deritend and this photograph shows the Irish Centre which has been at the heart of Birmingham’s Irish Life for well over 50 years.  I have chosen this photograph (‘The Irish Centre, Birmingham (2014) – MS 4672) as the image to promote the Library’s programme for two reasons.

Firstly, the Irish Centre has played a major part in my life, as it has for very many others of all generations in the local Irish community.  Its proud invitation is ‘Everyone Welcome’ and this underpins the philosophy which has sustained it through the good and bad times of the post war period.  The Centre has offered welfare, cultural and entertainment services and in the 1980s I availed myself of Galway Travel Service and Slattery’s Magic Coach for my frequent journeys to Ireland, the Centre hosting the former and providing the Birmingham Terminal for the latter.

Crucially however, this photograph was taken by me and has been donated to the Library of Birmingham archives.  It represents my small attempt to redress an imbalance within the archive collections which has arisen through an accident of history.  Despite the Irish presence in Birmingham having been ubiquitous for so long, the community’s footprint in the archival landscape is faint, often hidden and half-forgotten.  As an archivist trying to meet researchers’ requests for information about the Irish, I find this frustrating.  As a member of the local Irish community, I find it disappointing that we are not more forthcoming in communicating our successes and experiences to our fellow citizens.  Of course, within an institution as large as the Library of Birmingham there are records which can be used to assist with this communication and I will draw on these in my talk ‘Glimpsing Irish Birmingham: Images from the Archives’ on Wednesday 12th March 2014, where I will reveal much that seems commonplace but which reflects the City’s rich Irish heritage.

Despite all of this however, I am still confronted in my professional work with a relative lack of accessible, relevant records relating to Irish Birmingham.  Drawing inspiration from the positive approach of three members of the local Irish Community* I have followed their lead and have now engaged directly with Birmingham’s formal heritage institutions.  I have donated this photograph and other items relating to contemporary local Irish life to the Library of Birmingham.  Whilst my photographic skills are rudimentary, I hope that my example will prompt others to follow my example so that the Irish presence in Birmingham is more accurately represented and that members of all other communities similarly feel encouraged to strengthen their own archival presence.

Please come to one or more of the events in the ‘Celebrating the Irish Community’ series.  Just as with the Irish Centre, I am proud to say ‘Everyone Welcome’!

*Brendan Farrell has kindly agreed to donate a major photographic sequence to the Library of Birmingham, Pat O’Neill has been a long time supporter of cross community dialogue and Frank Feeney has promoted the enduring links of the Feeneys of Sligo with Birmingham, as shown by this photograph of an art mural in Digbeth (MS 4672).

Art mural in Digbeth [MS 4672]

Art mural in Digbeth
[MS 4672]

 Jim Ranahan

Want to read more? Why not take a look at Saint Patrick Would Approve?


One response to “Celebrating the Irish Community in Birmingham: A Personal Perspective

  1. I share your frustrations , I am researching my own familiy history in Birmingham its very difficult to find mention of the Irish in Brum.. In other parts of the uk there are lots of books and reports done but nor here .At my local library there are lots of books on other immigrants to the area and wonder if its worth starting a collaboration to get one done ??
    I have traced most of the family back to 1800 in Birmingham before that they were in County Mayo , family tales of Bare knuckle champions and gangs seem quite prevalent in ours well thats what my grandmother told me in her family tales

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