New project calls on older Irish to tell their stories

A new project is looking to record the life stories of the older Irish of London.

Entitled Hear our Voices, the project is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and is being undertaken in partnership with the Irish Pensioners’ Choir, and with support from the Irish Elderly Advice Network charity.

London-Irish musician and actress Jacquelyn Hynes, Director of Hear our Voices, said: “Hear Our Voices” centres on the experiences of the unique generation who emigrated from Ireland throughout the mid twentieth century.

“Some had experienced great challenges growing up and were to experience yet more upon emigrating – navigating the journey of being a stranger in a strange land at a time when strangers were not always welcomed.

“They forged new lives – often holding down several jobs whilst building families, and often in many senses building the city itself, whether through the infrastructure of construction sites or cultural social networks which they still maintain.”

The first year of the project will focus on interviewing members of the Irish Pensioners’ Choir, and members of the wider Irish community in the UK. The second year will focus on a creative collaboration in the form of a community theatre or radio play, developed from the collection of interviews, and including the interviewees themselves as participants alongside professional younger actors.

Jacquelyn added: “Oral history is a considered to be a hugely important part of our culture because it is social history, often unspoken and unrecorded, and like folk song, it contains and transmits the history of ordinary, extraordinary people. Story-telling is how we understand ourselves and our culture, and whether you’re watching a block-buster bursting with special effects, or listening to a seanchaí, it’s the power of the story and the images that draw you in, which I’ve learned from collaborating with Resident Storyteller Kate Corkery and Artist Manju Gregory on outreach projects at the Irish Cultural Centre. Irish people have a natural ability to describe events.

“Directing this kind of project is a long-held dream of mine, and furthermore, whilst we are in the crisis of the pandemic and community groups cannot meet, this project gives an invaluable opportunity to the elder Irish Community to remain connected and engaged in creative projects.

“I’ve always been fascinated by oral history. I’ve always made recordings of people – for years I tried to get someone to record my father who was a foot soldier in WW2 but it always seemed to fall through so I decided to do it myself and I recorded his memories around ten years ago. I did some more with him more recently.”

Jacquelyn has much experience of working on oral history projects.

“I was asked to collaborate musically alongside the songwriter JEoin with Ultan Cowley on a performance drawn from his books “The Craic Was Good In Cricklewood” at the Crown Moran Hotel and the Irish Cultural Centre, and I also toured as an actor with Age Exchange – a reminiscence theatre company based in Blackheath.

“In 2012 I was commissioned as the composer for Tyneside Irish Festival’s reminiscence theatre project, “Cass Bodhran” directed by Gordon Poad with Cap-A-Pie theatre. It was great to connect with the Director of Tyneside Irish Centre, Tony Corcoran and meet the story-teller Pat Speight “Pat the Hat”; and all the people involved in the festival and the centre, and the project was a resounding success and very meaningful for everyone involved.”

In 2013 Jacquelyn was a researcher and interviewer on Irish Voices which is housed in the Irish In Britain Archive at London Metropolitan University.

If you would like to be interviewed yourself, or you have a relative who might like to be part of Hear Our Voices, you can contact Jacquelyn Hynes on voices@irishelders.org.uk.

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