London’s Irish Elderly Advice Network celebrated its 30th anniversary with a dinner and awards night at St Joseph’s Parish Centre in Highgate, North London last week (15 June).
Former Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was the guest of honour.
He was accompanied by the Embassy of Ireland’s Political Counsellor Michael Lonergan, head of the Embassy’s Community Section Isobel O’Connor, and Mrs Deirdre Fraser who is married to Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK, Martin Fraser.
Awards were given to older Irish people for “outstanding contributions” to the Irish, and wider, communities in London and the UK, in charity, advocacy, diversity, culture, politics, business and community.
The organisation gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to its own founder and current director Sally Mulready.
Enda Kenny said on the night: “This invitation was a special invitation because of Sally Mulready.
“I know why the Irish Elderly Advice Network was set up. Because unfortunately we’ve had many cases of this- not just in our country but in other countries as well- where people pass on from this mortal existence in isolation, in despondency, in despair and on their own.
“What you’re doing here goes right to my soul because I was born in a county plagued by emigration.
“I’ve great admiration for people who had to leave.
“The outstanding contribution you can make is to people. They look at you, they talk to you, they listen to you. They comment about you, good or bad or whatever. But every one of them looks for inspiration, for recognition, for encouragement, for motivation.
“When Clint Eastwood was asked how come he’s so lively in his mid 90s, he said, ‘I never let the old man in’.
“So whatever time is left to us all, don’t let the old man in and the Irish Elderly Advice Centre is doing just that.
“The reason I’m here is because of you, Sally Mulready.
“The first time I met you I said to myself, ‘That’s a person of humility, of integrity and of absolute commitment to helping others’, and that’s what you’ve done all your life.
“What you’ve done is reach out and touch people and to be touched like that is so important. It’s looked forward to and when that communication is over they say, ‘Wasn’t it wonderful? We had a cup of tea. We had a conversation, we talked about the match we talked about this or we talked about that’.
“The Irish have always this thing in them of being the best connectors of all.
“Sally, I know it was a tragedy that brought this about but see what has grown out of it and it’s not finished yet. This is only the first 30 years.
“Whoever is going to stand here in 30 years’ time I hope that they will say, ‘Sally Mulready set up an organisation that flourished’.
“It wasn’t just an organisation, it was a living entity. Somebody fell and broke their leg, spouse died, was having difficulties: You get those people and bring them into your grasp, give them hope, give them optimism, give them courage, give them recognition that somebody cares and that somebody recognises them.
“That’s, Sally Mulready, what you have done and that’s why I came here to present you with your award, because you deserve it.”
Sally Mulready used her speech to pay tribute to the Irish Elderly Advice Network’s late stalwarts Alice Kennedy and Margaret Geiger.
Music was by the Barry Owen Band and singer Dermot Hegarty.
The Irish Elderly Advice Network was founded in 1993 to combat poverty, isolation and distress amongst elderly Irish people in and around London.
Today, with Irish government funding, it offers advice on welfare and housing, and social activities and seeks to record the contributions to British society made by older Irish people.