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Irish in London Legends
Past & Present

There are numerous stories of Irish people in London who have made a significant impact on the lives of Londoners and beyond. The following individuals, listed in no particular order, are some of those who have done so. There are many others who should be featured for their outstanding contributions to life in London (and beyond). Please feel free to make your recommendations.

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Nora Higgins
Irish
Community Leader

 

Nora, originally from Galway, moved to Scotland in 1955 where she trained as a nurse before moving to London in 1960.

She later became a school secretary and worked with a charity for disabled children before retiring and starting with the Southwark Irish Pensioners’ Project. Many of the same generation of Irish people who travelled to London in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her contribution to the centre, and the elderly Irish community in South London, is enormous, according to Rita Andrews, the manager.

“You need a person who will do the dirty work and who is knocking on the doors and asking people for money because that is not an easy thing to do,” said Ms Andrews.

“We wouldn’t have achieved half as much as an organisation without Nora because she is the one that has been pushing and irritating and not letting go.”

Brendan Mulkere
Musician & Educator

Brendan, originally from Clare had a huge impact of generations of traditional musicians, and a key figure in the development and promotion of Irish music in Britain.

His legacy is huge within music education and Irish traditional music, and his absolute transformative character made an enormous impact in London.
He was a force of nature in promoting Irish music and Irish culture in general. He founded the London Irish Commission for Culture and Education (1986), and Síol Phadraig, the London Irish Arts Festival (1985) — all the while establishing himself as one of the great tradition bearers and teachers of Irish traditional music.
Brendan led an outstanding music programme at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith and was a visiting master tutor at Limerick University. He was awarded the prestigious Gradam Comaoine (Outstanding Contribution) by TG4, the Irish Language TV station, in 2019.

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Ninette de Valois
Irish 'Godmother' of British Ballet

Ninette de Valois grew up near BlessingtonCounty WicklowIreland.
She danced professionally with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, later establishing the Royal Ballet, one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century and one of the leading ballet companies in the world. She also established the Royal Ballet School and the touring company which became the Birmingham Royal Ballet. She is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of ballet and as the Irish 'godmother' of English ballet.

Paddy Cowan
Founder,
The Irish World Newspaper

Paddy Cowan was the owner and founder of The Irish World newspaper based in north London, the weekly title was founded by Mr Cowan in 1987.

Mr Cowan, who hailed from Co. Longford, and was a Life President of the Longford Association in London and a stalwart of the Irish community in London and Britain.

Edna O'Brien
Author

Edna O'Brien DBE, is originally from Clare and is an Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short-story writer. Elected to Aosdána by her fellow artists, she was honoured with the title Saoi in 2015 and the biennial "UK and Ireland Nobel  David Cohen" Prize in 2019, whilst France made her Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2021.

]Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following the Second World War

Graham Norton
TV Personality & Author

Graham,who grew up in Cork, is an Irish comedian, actor, author, and television host. Well known for his work in the UK, he is a five-time BAFTA TV Award winner for his comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show (2007–present) and an eight-time award-winner overall—he received the British Academy Television Award for Best Entertainment Performance three times for So Graham Norton (2000 to 2002).
Since 2009, he has served as the BBC's television commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest.  He has been noted for his innuendo-laden dialogue and flamboyant presentation style. Prior to establishing himself as a presenter, Norton appeared as Father Noel Furlong in three episodes of the multiple award-winning Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted.  In 2019, he became a judge on RuPaul's Drag Race UK.

Breandán MacLua
Co-founder, The Irish Post

Breandán,from Clare, who was the co-founder of the Irish Post newspaper in London, a publication that was both timely and necessary for the Irish community in Britain.

 From the outset, he banned the words “emigrants” and “exiles” to describe his readers, coining the phrase “the Irish community in Britain”, which soon caught on.

Mac Lua was a journalist, author and GAA administrator before he answered the call of London-based accountant Tony Beatty to set up a new newspaper for the huge Irish diaspora in Britain. The date of the launch, Friday, February 13th, 1970

Mac Lua remained as editor of the newspaper for 18 years. The Irish Post's mixture of national stories and community news was critical in giving the Irish in Britain a voice and also helped to forge a sense of collective identity.

Sir. Terry Wogan
TV Personality

Sir Michael Terence Wogan KBE was an Irish-British radio and television broadcaster from Limerick who worked for the BBC in the UK for most of his career. Between 1993 and his semi-retirement in December 2009, his BBC Radio 2 weekday breakfast programme Wake Up to Wogan regularly drew an estimated eight million listeners. He was believed to be the most listened-to radio broadcaster in Europe.

Wogan was a leading media personality in Ireland and Britain from the late 1960s, and was often referred to as a "national treasure". In addition to his weekday radio show, he was known for his work on television, including the BBC One chat show Wogan, presenting Children in Need, the game show Blankety Blank and Come Dancing. He was the BBC's commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest from 1971 to 2008 

Mary Allen
Irish Community Leader

Mary served the London-Irish community for 60+ years through her work as a member of both the Waterford Association and the Council of Irish Counties Association. She was instrumental in organising the London St Patrick’s Day Parade and London Irish Festival over many years. In 2014, Mary was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award under the category ‘Irish Community Support’ by President Michael D Higgins at a special ceremony at Áras an Uachtaráin. 

Mel McNally
Photographer

Mel, a Longford native, came to Britain in the 1950s to find work after working at the Midlands Photographic Company in his hometown for five years.

Having previously worked with Irish Post founder Brendan Mac Lua in Ireland, when he launched the newspaper in Britain in 1970 Mel was quickly signed up as a staff photographer.

It was a role he would hold for many decades, with his son Malcolm also taking up a long-term photographer position with the newspaper in 1981.

A popular figure across Britain’s Irish community, Mel’s work saw him covering everything from community events to papal visits and the notorious Birmingham Six campaign – making lifelong friends wherever he went and finding himself on first name terms with various politicians, Taoisigh and even Prime Minister John Major.

Sister Hannah Dwyer
Educator

Sister Hannah, who grew up in Cork and is now retired, was a Headteacher in a million! Described as “an educational force of nature”, she is a Headteacher whose knowledge and understanding of how children learn and what they need to succeed is unparalleled. Her outstanding career spanned over 35 years, 23 of those as a Headteacher. She took on the role of Head at Larmenier R.C. Infants’ Schoo, Brook Green, West Londonl in 1991 and in 2002, Sr. Hannah was asked to merge the school with a local Catholic school, Sacred Heart R.C. Junior School. She took up this huge challenge which came with the task of raising £7 million to fund a new building.  Upon her retirement, her legacy is an exceptional school but closer to her heart, the thousands of children who have enjoyed the best possible start in life.
Sister Hannah's  dedication and constant striving for excellence was recognised with the presentation of a Pearson Teaching Award.

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Eamonn Andrews
TV Personality

Eamonn Andrews, CBE (19 December 1922 – 5 November 1987) was an Irish radio and television presenter, employed primarily in the United Kingdom from the 1950s to the 1980s. From 1960 to 1964 he chaired the Radio Éireann Authority (now the RTÉ Authority), which oversaw the introduction of a state television service in the Republic of Ireland. He is perhaps best remembered as the UK host of This Is Your Life from its inception in 1955 until his death in 1987.

London Irish Centre, Camden
Community & Culture Centre

The London Irish Centre is a charity based in Camden, London, which has served the Irish community since 1955.

With a recession in Ireland in the mid-20th century, and Britain in need of workers in a number of industries and services, tens of thousands of Irish people migrated to Britain. The centre itself opened in 1955 providing accommodation (serving as a hostel in its early years), employment support and a starting point to those arriving. The Camden Square location was chosen for its proximity to Euston Station, where Irish people disembarked their trains from Holyhead Ferry Port. The London Irish Centre also became a hub of social activity, with dinners, dances and social functions.

Throughout history, the Centre has become an iconic landmark for the Irish in London. As of 2023, the London Irish Centre's patrons include Ed Sheeran and Dermot O'Leary.

The charity provides a world-class programme of Irish arts and culture, as well as information, advice and community support. 

The Galtymore
Dance Hall in Cricklewood

The Galtymore opened it’s doors in 1952 and was the main social headquarters for the Irish in London until it closed in May 2008.

For countless thousands of Irish emigrants to London during the 20th century the Galtymore in Cricklewood was more than just a dance-hall.  It was a ‘home from home’, a piece of Ireland where each weekend they could meet Irish friends from all over London, hear the music from the Irish country and showband scene
‘The Galty’ was one of it’s kind, massive, sporting two huge dance-halls, a céile band played in one and the big showbands in the other. The Galty hosted many famous show-bands like Big Tom, Joe Dolan, Brendan Shine and Margo and would often be rammed to over-capacity. 
In many ways the Galty was a place of sanctuary where emigrants could meet up at the weekends and enjoy familiar songs and music. These were the pre-Ryanair times when many could not afford to go home.

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Danny La Rue OBE
Actor

Danny La Rue, OBE (born Daniel Patrick Carroll, 26 July 1927 – 31 May 2009) was an Irish-born English singer and entertainer, best known for his on-stage drag persona. He performed in drag and also as himself in theatrical productions, television shows and film.

In1927, La Rue was the youngest of five siblings. The family moved to England when he was six and he was brought up at Earnshaw Street in Covent GardenCentral London.

He was appointed OBE in the 2002 Queen's Birthday Honours List

Vincent Keaveny
First Irish Lord Mayor,
City of London

Originally from Dublin, Vincent Keaveny is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin.  He has lived and worked in England since1989 , qualifying as a solicitor in1992 and has been a partner in DLA Piper since 2015.
In 2018 Keaveny was awarded the UCD Alumni Award in Law.

He was the first Irishman to be elected Lord Mayor of the City of London, taking office on 13 November 2021,

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2023 Birthday Honours for services to socio-economic advancement, British–Irish relations and the City of London.

Baroness May Blood Politician

Baroness May Blood was the president of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland and was previously involved with the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition.

In 1999, she became the first woman from Northern Ireland to be given a life peerage.

At her funeral, the Reverend Glen Jordan, said Baroness Blood "had a real concern for people in our communities and a concern for their futures and especially education".

"May was never concerned about getting anything in return which proves her concern was from the heart."

Mary Clancy Hatch
Business Woman

Mary Clancy Hatch is a Main Board Director and major shareholder in the Clancy

Group Plc, a Civil Engineering Group whose turnover is approx. £260m pa and employs approx. 3000 people.

She is also a former Chair of the Irish Youth Foundation, U.K. and the Women’s Irish Network. She was also a Trustee and Chair of the Development Committee of the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Mary read history at Trinity College Dublin.

She is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire

Bill Aylsbury
Pacer,
Mayor of London's
St. Patrick's Parade

Kathleen O'Donovan, 
Volunteer, 
Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith

Josephine Hart
Writer and Poet,

Josephine Hart, Baroness Saatchi, was an Irish writer, born in MullingarCounty Westmeath.  She was a theatrical producer and television presenter who lived in London.

Lady Saatchi wrote the novel Damage, which was the basis for the 1992 film of the same name, directed by Louis Malle and starring Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche and Rupert Graves.

Formerly a director of Haymarket Publishing, Hart was a founder of Gallery Poets and West End Poetry Hour. She produced several West End plays, including the Evening Standard Award winner The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca.

She appeared on television as the presenter for the Thames TV series Books by My Bedside. Her papers are currently housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

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