The toon they love so well

Ant and Dec with Lynne Harrison, Tyneside Irish Centre manager

Tyneside Irish Centre has been thrust in the spotlight due to a recent documentary highlighting the family connections of TV’s favourite duo Ant and Dec to the centre.

The programme, And and Dec’s DNA Journey, traced the duo’s ancestry discovering long-lost cousins in Ireland and the States but the journey that ended in America began at Tyneside Irish Centre. In April 2017 the prsenters who are well known from ITV shows like I’m A Celebrity visited the centre on their voyage of ancestral discovery.

The programme showed Bill Corcoran sit down with the pair at the centre and was able to shed some light on the family backgrounds of both.

Ant and Dec with Tom Moore (Waterford) and Abina O’Driscoll (West Cork)

Dec was well aware of his Irish heritage. His father and mother, Phonsie and Anne, came from Tyrone and Derry to manage the Tyneside Irish Centre in the 1970s. Declan and his brother , now Reverend Father Dermot, sang their first ballads as boy sopranos at the Round the Fire sessions at the centre’s home then in Westmorland Road. Dec’s parents were the first to run the centre at its current venue.

Ant McPartlin, however, had little inkling of his Irish roots especially on his father’s side.  He was clearly shocked when Bill Corcoran of the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society showed him the army records relating to his great grandfather, Peter McPartlin. Peter fought in the Somme and was awarded the Military Medal, one of the British army’s highest honours whilst fighting with the Tyneside Irish Brigade in the First World War. He was also an Air Raid Precautions man in the Second World War but this was not mentioned in the show.

Bill Corcoran said: “I think it was quite a shock for Ant in the sense that he hadn’t really heard about the history of the community and what happened.

“I was impressed with Ant, of course, he was shocked by what had happened, but I think he was genuinely interested.

“He wasn’t just putting it on for the cameras – they’re not like that, they’re nice lads, and we’ve known them for a long, long time and they’re genuine guys.

“I’m told that Ant’s looked into it, and it isn’t just about his great grandfather but about what happened to that community, why did that happen in the first place and what was going on.

“I think it was the sense that this little fella from Newcastle was in the centre of a huge world shaking event, and maybe Ant thought, ‘Peter should be more famous than I am’.'”

Grace Herrily, Dec’s father Phonsie Donnelly, Dec’s mother Anne Donnelly and Fr. Joe Travers at Westmorland Road in 1974

Barbara Flynn, who is leading the development of an Irish Heritage Centre, said being associated with the famous pair has done the society and club’s profile the world of good: “The Ant and Dec effect can only be helpful to us as we seek funding and support.

“We already have a great stock of Irish books relevant to our aim of creating a hub where people like Ant can explore their Irish roots or research more general themes. We have already secured support from the Government of Ireland’s Emigrant Support Programme and have submitted a detailed proposal to the Heritage Lottery which will help us create an exhibition of the Tyneside Irish Brigade and its legacy.”

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