By Shelley Marsden
ORGANISERS were expecting queues around the block, and they weren’t disappointed.
Some 700 people turned up to the inaugural St Patrick’s Day Concert at Hackney’s York Hall last week. A free event funded by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, crowds from the Irish and wider community flocked to the Bethnal Green venue for a colourful night of Irish music, song and dance.
“Nothing like this has happened in East London for many, many years”, said one of the event’s organisers, Sally Mulready. “It was a massive success, and reveals the huge need for cultural activities that exists in this part of London. Many older Irish and older people from the wider community heard music they hadn’t heard for years.”
Sally said they are now hoping to make it an annual event, and plan to talk to older Irish musicians in East London to see if it’s something they could develop, as well as approach the National Lottery for funding.
Created with the help of East End group The Irish Pensioners Forum, Sally said it’s not just an opportunity to mobilise the Irish community of East London, to enjoy their own culture, but a way of mobilising the Irish elderly in the area, and combat isolation and loneliness.
“Over the last two years, the forum has developed a cultural night held out the first Thursday of every month that is now packed out every time”, said Sally.
“It’s headed up by John O’Connor from Tipperary, a pensioner himself who has drive this because he feels East London has been out in the wilderness for years, and deserves better than what it’s had up to now. This event is an extension of that.”
The Concert saw a performance from the legendary Irish accordion players, Joe and Michael Searson, and flute player Mick Mulvey, all of whom spent their younger lives in Tower Hamlets before moving back to Ireland. Before the Searsons returned to Ireland in the 1990s, they taught Irish traditional music to hundreds of second-generation musicians.
Also performing were young Anglo-Irish folk band Mondegreen, residents at the increasingly popular Mondegreen Folk Club in Stoke Newington, Hackney. The group, who released their first album in January, includes cellist Kathy Gentles, singer and guitarist, Ewan D Rodgers, singer Rosie Falconer and members of the Hackney-Irish Mulready Family, who between them play tin whistles, fiddles, flute, bodhran, guitar and button accordion.
The concert also featured multi-award winning Irish musicians, sisters Orlaith and Brogan McAuliffe, folk singers and guitarists, Billy Steven and Eoin Quiery and Tower Hamlet’s own country-Irish singer John Courtney.
The East London Irish Pensioners Set Dancing group performed the Connemara Set, and also performing were the Maguire-O’Shea School of Irish Dance, an East London dance school which has had many pupils go on to appear in Riverdance.
A thirty-strong group from Hackney School of Folk were also on the line-up, as was Polish dance troup Orletta.