London Irish stories
Islington Irish Month is a new partnership between Islington Council and the London Irish Centre, promoting Irish culture in the borough during the year of Islington’s first Irish mayor. Throughout March, London Irish Stories will feature four stories of the Irish in Islington. We spoke to Anna Johnston, culture officer at the London Irish Centre, who’s helping bring these stories to life
How did London Irish Stories get started and what was the idea behind it?
London Irish Stories only started less than a year ago, in April 2021. The London Irish Centre in Camden wanted to tell the diverse stories of what it means to be London-Irish. London Irish Stories is an accessible online collection of first-person blog posts from people with connections to both Ireland and London, including audio clips and imagery.
What do you find most surprising about the Irish people you interview?
I’m always surprised just how different each story is! Every person gives a different perspective on what being London-Irish means to them.
Are participants ever reluctant to talk about themselves or think their life story isn’t worth collecting?
Some people don’t put themselves forward to tell their story because they feel they don’t have an interesting enough story to tell. Usually these are the people with the best stories! They tell the story of everyday life and the experiences of being London-Irish. These stories would not otherwise be documented.
What is the benefit of using oral history testimonials to preserve personal stories – especially Irish ones?
Having audio recordings of the stories captures the character of the person being interviewed. Hearing someone’s accent brings the story to life. It allows people to go into more detail. Also, some people feel more comfortable talking about their story than writing it – also, they are less likely to edit what they say. I only ever get to publish around 800 words of what is said in the interview, but these recordings are saved in case we ever want to deep dive into the stories and learn of the finer details of a person, time or place.
What story or anecdote got the biggest reaction from you?
I loved interviewing Maeve Heath. She’s the longest standing volunteer at the London Irish Centre and had so many different stories to tell about it. It was so nice to hear how the Centre has changed over the years, to suit the needs of the Irish here in London.
What are your future goals for London Irish Stories?
I want to see the collection of stories continue to grow. I’d love to play around with what and whose stories we tell – perhaps tell the stories of significant places and venues for the London-Irish. Or even turn some of these stories into a podcast series! I think there are an unlimited amount of London Irish Stories to be told, so the possibilities of the project are endless.