Eddie Gilmore tells Fiona O’Brien about Irish Chaplaincy, and its work today after it was originally set up six decades ago to support Irish emigrants in London
Sixty years ago, the Irish Bishops’ Conference sent nine Columbans to England to minister to the thousands of Irish emigrants there, mainly to those working in the construction and catering industries.
This was how the charity Irish Chaplaincy began in London and it is particularly poignant for the current chief executive Eddie Gilmore, who joined at the start of this year, because his Galway-born father worked on building sites in Coventry and his mother, from Newry, worked in a cafe when they emigrated here.
“So they were just the type the chaplaincy was set up to help with,” he says.
Six decades later and Eddie says the work is as relevant now as ever, but also very different.
“For many years it was made up of priests and some nuns. Those numbers dwindled and now we have one priest on paid staff and one on the board, but the kind of people we are serving has also changed. The Irish Chaplaincy is one of the oldest Irish welfare charities in the UK. It offers culturally sensitive support for Irish immigrants and other people of Irish heritage throughout England and Wales, and deals with the most vulnerable and marginalised Irish people in Britain. It provides services in four categories: prisoners, Travellers, seniors and new immigrants.
“The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) was set up in response to the large amount of Irish prisoners in British jails and the adverse effect it was having on families back in Ireland, who had limited access to their loved ones.
“That is the major service that we are engaged in. There was quite a bit of contact with members of the Travelling community, especially those in the criminal justice system, so that became a specific project in recent years.
“In 2005 our Seniors Project was set up in response to the quite large amount of Irish people who had fallen on hard times in their later years. Some were living alone in London in quite poor and squalid conditions, and often with mental health issues as well.
“We are in touch with 110 elderly Irish people for pastoral outreach, befriending and advocacy.”
In the last year the chaplaincy supported 782 Irish prisoners in prison in England and Wales, and 300 families back in Ireland. In addition to that they were in touch with 359 Irish Travellers in prison via face-to-face visits and organising Traveller groups in prisons and responding to 30 letters a week.
“The Traveller Equality project also provides culturally relevant resources to Irish Travellers in prison. It provides advice and resources to another charity called the Shannon Trust which does great work in raising literacy levels among prisoners.
“We provide grants for £10 for prisoners. In the last year we gave over £10,000 in prisoner aid for phone credit and other basics. We do a lot of work around advocacy and any way people need our help.”
The chaplaincy is also looking into expanding their work with prisoners with a resettlement project to support prisoners on their release.
“At the moment we only support people inside prison and we would like to be there to help their transition afterwards. There are horrendous levels of reoffending in Britain and we would like to be able to reduce that.”
It is a huge amount of work undertaken by a small team and it goes largely unknown. There is just nine paid staff, seven full-time and two part-time, and 18 volunteers. Eddie says he was surprised by how few volunteers there were with the amount of people in London with Irish connections, but even though he comes from an Irish background he too had never heard of the chaplaincy until he saw the job advertised last year.
Read more from this article in this week’s Irish World Newspaper, available in your local shop.
www.irishchaplaincy.org.uk or 020 7482 5528 for more information