Leeds Irish Centre

The speaker at our April meeting was Sheron Boyle, a native of Wakefield and an author and
journalist, specialising in crime and health.
She gave us a talk on the history of the Leeds Irish Centre, a talk which was supposed to coincide
with our December 2020 meeting but which had to be postponed for obvious reasons.
Sheron informed us that this was the UK’s first purpose built Irish Centre on York Road on land
bought specially for that reason. She described the building as of standard red brick but told us it
was what happened inside that was iconic. It opened in June 1970.
Irish people have migrated to Yorkshire since the 1830s, increasing during and after the Irish
Famine of the 1840s. Another migration between 1931 and 1941 was for economic reasons
mainly. Some Irish people emigrated to America.
Sheron reminded us that there won’t be a canal, road or hospital etc not touched by the unskilled
Irish people who came over to the UK and helped to shape our cities. The men would generally
work as navvies, labourers or miners and the women would have been millworkers. The housing
conditions for them would have been poor but each generation did better than the last and the
housing they settled in gradually improved. Irish workers would have built the Inner Ring Road in
Leeds which runs past the Irish Centre. She reminded us that our country was built with migrant
Sheron is hoping they can continue developing the building as a centre of excellence for Irish
history. She took us back to the days when the Centre opened, Brendan Shine being one of the
first performers and Tommy McLoughlin MBE acting as master of ceremonies and is still manager
today, one member of a long serving staff. She went on to tell us about the fundraising they do on
a regular basis, and good works locally and globally, supporting the Rob Burrows Foundation and
sending vans to Ukraine for example. Sheron told us about the annual business dinners where the
most expensive bottle of whisky in the world is auctioned and re-auctioned, raising hundreds of
thousand of pounds through the generosity of people who attend.
Sheron told us of some of the famous faces connected with the Irish Centre, including Brian May,
Gabby Logan, Nathan Carter and the Gallagher brothers from Oasis. There is also a blue plaque
on the building which reads ‘The Crucible of Darts’, a reference to it being the home of TV darts
starting when Fred Trueman was the presenter.
The Centre also has a spiritual director in Canon Eugene McGillicuddy, who sees the centre as a
branch office of his church. Sheron told us that everyone is welcomed and treated the same, from
pensioners to Presidents. There is a thriving and long established Tuesday Club for older
members, established by Tommy in 1999 and attracting several hundred people with lunch,
dancing and singing.
Sheron ‘closed the circle’ by telling us that there is still Irish migration and that the people who
come over to the UK now will most probably be working inside the blocks of offices instead of
building them.

Lorraine Simpson

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