Did you know that 12% of London’s population are Irish people? 900,000 Irish Londoners may sound like a lot, but actually it’s only out of 13 million, so it’s really not that many at all. However, statistics say that 6 million of Brits have at least one grandparent from Ireland, so many of us have a little bit of Irish in our genes! From a touristic point of view, Ireland is the fourth most popular nationality to visit the UK, meaning that our neighbours are very important to our economy. In this article we will explore how Ireland has influenced and continues to inspire London life today…
I firstly have to say that I am one of those 6 million with Irish heritage as my dear grandmother was from County Kildare in Southern Ireland, which makes me a quarter Irish! She had an accent to die for and was a real gem of a lady who moved to England during the Second World War. She kept telling me how disappointed she was that she wasn’t shipped off to an exotic country to serve and was surprised when she ended up in England, but has stayed here ever since and years later here I am writing this blog proud to be part Irish. My grandmother was only one of thousands who over the last century had migrated to England and due to the very close proximity of Ireland; even today the numbers are changing all the time in residency and tourism. So, what has Ireland brought to London since all those years ago? The first and definitely most notable influence of the Irish population is the wonderful celebration of St. Patrick’s Day! Throughout the UK this is a widely rejoiced event owing to the evidently many people with Irish ancestry. This year in London, the St. Patrick’s Day parade and festival attracted over 100,000 people in Trafalgar Square, showcasing only the best of Irish music, culture and arts. The deep roots of Irish communities in London were enthusiastically celebrated and even had a theme of ‘World of Dance’, inviting London’s dance groups to celebrate Irish cultural dancing. Next year’s St. Patrick’s Day party is due to dazzle again with all things green, white and orange, marching bands, street theatre and wacky costumes. There will be parties in many London pubs serving traditional Irish drinks and even some restaurants may make some Irish changes to their menus! It’s definitely a date to note in your diary for next year.
Another key element of Irish culture that we have embraced is of course one of my favourite things in the world, Irish dancing! This fascinating work of art is a worldwide phenomenon with Irish dance troupes touring all over the globe performing legendary shows such as Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, Riverdance and Magic of the Dance (all of which I have seen multiple times). This type of dancing takes a lot of stamina, technical ability and a love for traditional Irish music. Here’s a fun fact, years ago when Irish dancing competitions began, the shortage of space meant that the dancers had no other choice but to perform on table tops and barrels. This explains the rigidness and stillness of the dancer’s body and arms, I didn’t know that! There are plenty of dance schools around London that teach Irish dancing to any enthusiast as well as some magical performances coming up, such as the very special 20th anniversary of Riverdance who will be performing at the Hammersmith Apollo in December.
And last, but definitely not least, there are countless numbers of Irish-owned pubs and bars in London that stock ales and whiskey, have live dancing and music as well as delicious foods. We had a look at Time Out London’s suggestions for the best Irish pubs and the first on the list was the Auld Shillelagh in Stoke Newington. This pub/bar is renowned for its vibrant nightlife and ‘value-added attractions’ such as its themed music nights, a large beer garden and live football screens. The service is said to be warm, fun and hospitable and along with the carefully poured Guinness, it puts everyone in a good mood and brings a real Irish atmosphere to city life! Other popular Irish pubs include the Blythe Hill Tavern, the Boston Arms pub and Cow (yes I agree, not the most attractive name).
None of us can deny that we love these aspects of Irish heritage in our city as they have brought fun, entertainment and culture to London life. As an Irishman once famously said “There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were.”