Irish Centre’s 150th

Anniversary of Newcastle Irish Centre

2021 is the 150th Anniversary of the first Irish Centre founded in Newcastle in 1871. The “Irish Club” was given the grand title of the “Irish Literary Institute” and located in Clayton Street opposite the Grainger Market. It occupied three floors of what had been an elegant town house built for wealthy merchants by the Tyneside Classical developer Richard Grainger.

The driving force behind the foundation of the club was Bernard McAnulty who was born in County Down and came to Newcastle in 1830’s, becoming a successful draper living at Dog Leap Stairs, leading down from the castle. He was elected to the Town Council as the first Irish Councillor in the country. He stood for election for the All Saints Ward, where there was a concentration of Irish residents at Sandgate, not for a traditional Political Party but as a Home Ruler.

A warm welcome

In 1858 Bernard McAnulty married Mary Milburn at Newcastle’s St Mary’s Cathedral and they lived at 2, Claremont Place, in the centre of the town for the rest of their lives. Bernard died in 1894 aged 78 years and is buried in Jesmond Cemetery and his grave is marked by a Celtic-Cross.

The Irish Club became the first “port of call” for Irish immigrants looking for a warm welcome to the town and seeking welfare advice about employment and housing. Despite the Institute’s discrete name, out of fear of reprisals against Fenians, the club became the centre for political organisations and meetings giving support for the Land League and Home Rule.

Bernard McAnulty gave loyal support to Newcastle’s Member of Parliament, the radical Joseph Cowen, owner of the Chronicle newspaper, and advocate of Irish causes. Michael Davitt, leader of the Land League and Charles Parnell, leader of the Irish Party in Parliament, were regular visitors to the Institute.

Tony Corcoran says in his booklet entitled, Tyneside Irish Heritage Walk, that the Institute’s aim was the, “cultivation of Irish literature and the moral improvement of its members … but don’t worry … it had a bar!”

It is hoped that in the year ahead the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society will find ways of celebrating a hundred and fifty years of the foundation of the Institute and the contribution of the largest ethnic minority to the City’s life. It would be wonderful if the City Council could place a Heritage plaque on the building in Clayton Street to mark the occasion of the founding of the Institute.

If you have any memories or photographs of the various Irish Clubs in the city please contact Bridie Lowery who is working on publishing a history of the Irish Centres in Newcastle as part of our 150th celebrations..