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Portsmouth Irish Society turns 70

Portsmouth Irish Society Chairman Kit O’Connor Vice-Chair Dan Davis and Irish Embassy’s Paraig Hennessy with the dancers from Boyle-O’Dowda Academy of Irish Dancing

By David Hennessy

Portsmouth Irish Society reached its three score and ten with a dinner dance at their Portsmouth Irish Centre base on Elm Grove on Saturday 2 November. Special guests on the night were Paraig Hennessy from the Irish Embassy, Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Ben Dowling and Deputy Lord Mayoress Roxana Andrusca. Music was provided by Sean Wilson and Tony Mac after a dancing display by the skilled dancers of Boyle-O’Dowda Academy of Irish Dancing that included two performers from Riverdance.

Secretary Martin McGuire, from Gweesalia in Mayo, told The Irish World: “I have a big responsibility really to members to keep this club going. I hope I can keep it going for another 70 years.”

Martin says the society has had hard times but it is in a good place now after carrying out needed repairs allowing for events such as weddings and parties, which Martin himself organises to take place there: “I do love it. I love doing what I’m doing. It’s all voluntary as well. Everything we do in this club is voluntary. People think we get paid but we don’t.

“I left Ireland at 16 and have been working all my life in this country. I became a member when I was about 18 years of age, 17 maybe, and I’m here ever since. I’m 73 now.”

Martin’s wife Christine is also involved with the food and her team, that includes Martin’s daughters and granddaughter, took care of all the food on the night: “I wouldn’t be able to do all this if it wasn’t for my wife.”

Chairman Kit O’Connor said: “70 years this club has been going. It’s a long time but there is no reason why we can’t be here in another 70 years’ time. I’d like to thank people like Martin, Charlie, Dan. Unless you’re on the committee, you have no idea of the work they have put in to keep this club going. We all work together and that is essential for this club.”

The Cuffe family

Paraig Hennessy of the Irish Embassy said: “It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s great to be back in Portsmouth.

“I was announced here 30 years ago at the 40th anniversary celebrations of this great society and it’s an absolute pleasure for me to be back 30 years later to celebrate the 70th.

“To be here tonight is very important to me because this is the Irish community, this is the Irish welcome, this is the céad míle fáilte, this is what Ireland is all about. The people who have put this club together, maintained the club, maintained all the services, helped the Irish dancers, helped the Irish language, helped the Irish musicians: They’re all very important to the Embassy and to Ireland.

Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Ben Dowling and Deputy Lord Mayoress Roxana Andrusca with Orlaith, Tadhg and Jessica from the Boyle-O’Dowda Academy of Irish Dancing.

“For years and years, remittances from people who are sitting in this room were critical to Ireland and I want to say on behalf of the Embassy and the Ambassador, who has asked me to say this: We are very, very appreciative of all you have done.

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“Portsmouth Irish Society, a very happy birthday and as we say in the Irish language: Go maire tú an céad. May you live to at least 100.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Ben Dowling said on the night: “We attend an enormous number of events throughout the year. This is one of the friendliest we’ve had and we don’t say that to everyone. We’re very grateful to be here and appreciate the invitation.”

Some of the money from the evening’s raffle was donated to the Lord Mayor’s appeal.  While the Lord Mayor has in the past chosen one or two charities to support throughout the year, this year it has been decided to create the Portsmouth Community Chest, the aim is to raise £50,000 and give £1,000 each to individual small organisations in Portsmouth.

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