St.Patrick’s Day and 1916: my personal observations.

Writing now it’s all over these are just a few notes from a purely personal perspective. ( Tony Corcoran – Secretary Tyneside Irish Centre)

First of all a big thanks to all of our members and friends who turned out last Thursday and made it a very successful day socially and financially. Also  “go raibh maith agaibh” to all our hard-working staff and our new manager, Lynn Harrison. I  know we made some mistakes with the timing of the entertainment and we probably didn’t need the security presence in the evening but I hope you all appreciate that safety has to be our main concern on “the day”.

Our mini-festival started last Tuesday with a fascinating lecture by Max Adams who made a pretty convincing case for Ireland’s patron saint being born and raised on Hadrian’s Wall speaking Welsh! He’s coming back to do St. Columba ( Colm Cille) so look out for that! Central to all was the Mass in St Michaels continuing a tradition started by Fr. Joe Travers nearly fifty years ago. It was followed by a service of remembrance at Eldon Square for the almost 3,000 of the Tyneside Irish Brigade who were lost in action. This was attended by hundreds and got major coverage in the regional media. Thanks to the Brigade Association who we were pleased to welcome for their dinner in the club last Friday night. By the way this proved what a first-class job Lynn and her staff can make of a formal dinner. Lastly on Saturday we held our Shamrock Stage in the centre ( moved from the Monument for security reasons). It was an brilliant event with an emphasis on welcoming families and for once it was good to see a log-jam of buggies and prams. The face-painting and magic show went well as did the ceili  and dance display. I must  mention also Comhaltas youngsters who played a storming set under the direction of our good friend, Paul Ruane.  Great as ever to have the support of the Lord Mayor of the city on the day and three of our local MP’s all of whom have Irish grandparents: Catherine McKinell at the memorial, Ian Mearns at the dinner and Chi Onwarah who came on Saturday specially to meet the Irish Dancers and mark the International Week of Dance in her role as a shadow culture minister.

Remembering the events of 1916 the bus from the centre leaves for Dublin on Good Friday  and the Tyneside Irish Brigade Association are off to the Somme in July.  I was brought up like many to think of the Easter Rising as an unalloyed triumph and many of us thought the world wars to be glorious episodes also. As  we now look back at the twentieth century in a clearer focus I think we see the tragic side of these events more. Recent military interventions by the British government have been fairly disasterous and remind us of the very severe losses suffered by the then large Irish community here in 1914-18. The “troubles” that plagued Ireland for over thirty years were a direct legacy of the partition of the country post 1916. I therefore do believe it’s fitting that we remember the heroes but also commemorate rather than celebrate. Peace and reconciliation is easy to say but difficult to achieve and preserve. In a small way our lecture programme is a contribution to understanding 1916 and we can’t forget the shadow of the first world war hung over Dublin too. It was therefore great to see so many different nationalities at the war memorial and in the centre on St Patrick’s Day.