Irish Chaplaincy – remembering Irish people in Britain since 1957
A commemorative bench was blessed by Bishop Paul MacAleenan, auxiliary bishop for the Roman Catholic diocese of Westminster, yesterday in Camden Square, near the London Irish Centre.
It was a delight to be at the open-air service with members of the Irish Chaplaincy, its volunteers, many of those they support, as well as relatives and friends. Chief executive of Irish Chaplaincy Eddie Gilmore accompanied the singing on his guitar and Bishop Paul led the small congregation in prayer and thanksgiving.
A commemorative plaque on the wooden bench in its shady spot records how Irish Chaplaincy has been 'Sitting with, supporting and remembering Irish people in Britain since 1957' – many of those who came as immigrant workers are now in their later years.
The mayor of Camden, Cllr Nasim Ali, who opened the occasion by telling some of his own story, described himself as 'an immigrant too' having come to this country when he was a seven-year-old boy.
Cllr Ali, who has twice served as mayor locally, recalled his first day at school in the London borough, being petrified that his parents wouldn't return to collect him. He spoke of what a warm welcome his family had received and of how diverse Camden is today with some 160 different languages being spoken in the area.
Bishop Paul, in his homily, described how apprehensive many Irish families were on arriving at Euston and carrying heavy luggage – with small children – towards relatives they might have in North London. 'The Irish Centre is here,' he said, 'because this was about the limit of how far one could walk with a heavy suitcase and children.'
He paid tribute to the services of the Irish Chaplaincy coming alongside such families; 'Your work is deeply appreciated' he said. The charity has a particular focus on drawing alongside 'prisoners, travellers and seniors', bringing hope to isolated and vulnerable Irish.
After the service, everyone was welcomed back to the Irish Centre's Kennedy Hall – just a few paces away – for a beautifully prepared buffet lunch.
I spoke to one woman in her mid-80s whose daughter alerted Irish Chaplaincy during lockdown to the fact that her mother who lives some distance from her was spending several days at a time without contact with anyone. The older lady praised the chaplain who has kept in touch with her regularly throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so.