‘We can’t get stuck in the 1950s, we have to have new, vibrant things too,’ says new Irish Cultural Centre manager
The recently rebuilt Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith has a new General Manager, David O’Keeffe. He spoke to the Irish World’s Michael McDonagh about his plans to make the centre a cultural and networking hub for all Irish generations, old and new – and one that’s open until late.
David came to London from his native Dublin over 20 years ago to work as a series producer in factual and entertainment TV with some of the best-known faces on commercial television including Alastair Stewart, Piers Morgan and Sir David Frost. More recently he worked as media and PR consultant to the National Foundation for Youth Music, also known as Youth Music.
“We are in a brand new, state of the art, building, which is almost fitted out. We have another little bit to go by turning our foyer into a real bar café area.
“The more I (learn), having just taken over, is what an amazing achievement it was for the Board to actually raise three and a half million quid to fund the building. Not just that – but to actually buy the freehold so this Centre is now held in perpetuity for the Irish Community. That’s a huge achievement.
“That was stage one, now we have stage two.
“We have this beautiful new building and it is a bit like turning a house into a home.
“We will be doing some other things to make it have a warmer, welcoming kind of feel and really give it a stamp as a Cultural Centre for Art, Literature and Music.
“Over the coming year you will see us working hard to create a new kind of ambience. We are going to change that whole area into a café bar to create a place where people can hang out at a Cultural Centre with all kinds of activities, and also a club where Irish people and their friends can meet.
“It is here for the Irish community but by the community I also mean the young Irish professionals that have come over to London, graphic designers and creatives and others. It is a place for them to come to as well.
“We have seen that although they may not come to a trad music session here, they will fly back to vote in a referendum. So they still have the strong connection to Ireland.
“I don’t see any reason why they should not feel connected to an Irish Cultural Centre by encouraging the club-like element to it and by expanding our range of events.
“I want to hold on to our existing audience and to preserve all those traditional elements of Irish culture, that we worked really hard to support in the old Centre, but also to be attractive to a new vibrant Irish audience as well.
“I really want to preserve that reputation we have for showcasing Irish music. Our space is great for the musicians as they are close to the audience.
“It is not like I want to ditch things and throw out the baby with the bath water but I want to build on the foundations we have, then expand on it.
“I want the Irish Cultural Centre to be a home for emerging Irish creative talent, be that filmmakers, singers, musicians, sculptors, writers whatever.
“I want to try to increase audiences and to be that platform for young artists to show off their work, not just traditional Irish Music but contemporary Irish bands too.
“That is the responsibility of a Cultural Centre.
“We want to continue what we have done in the past – but we can’t get stuck in the 1950s, we have to have new vibrant things too.
“We are on the late-night Piccadilly line and have a bar licence that means we can open till 1am when we need to.
“My idea is to get the place buzzing with a whole range of things going on of all kinds.
“I want to make sure that we are a hub for all the Irish groups and clubs and people, so people use the venue and feel at home here and feel that we are open to them to.
“I also would like to think we could be a stop off place for Irish business people coming through, as we are on the Tube to the airport, and they could use our rooms for meetings with a little bit of a work space here and that works both ways, as it may bring in sponsorship income.
“We also want to reach out to our local communities as well, which have a diverse culture from Polish to Eastern European and Asian and I think we should embrace that and try to work with the local community too.”
So what are the coming attractions in Hammersmith?
“We have a weekend coming up in November called the ‘Irish Blasters’, which is like a mini festival that has Steve Cooney playing, and Four Men and A Dog playing over four nights. We have a film screening of Black 47, which is a film set at the time of the Famine, and we will have a question and answer session with the director.
“We have a film screening with Hollywood actor Patrick Bergin, who will be showing three short films he did about WB Yeats and we have lots of other musicians coming in.
“We have Don Mescall and then Jackie McCauley. Not far off now in September we have Irish Canadian singer Irish Mythen, who is fantastic and also Daoiri Farrell, who went down so well, is coming back.
“Next year St Brigid’s Day (1 February) is going to be a big thing for us as the Irish Embassy is co-coordinating a whole series of events to celebrate Irish women.
“We are doing something special, like the female version of St Patrick’s Day, and we will organising a special talk about women’s contributions to the Peace Process and former President Mary McAleese will chair it.
“I (also) plan to make a big thing of Bloomsday (16 June, the single day about which James Joyce wrote in Ulysses) next year.”