The latest event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Irish Chaplaincy was a reception at the Irish Embassy at the end of November. The new Ambassador Adrian O’Neill spoke warmly about the work of the Chaplaincy in reaching out to many Irish people in Britain, especially, as he put it, “those most on the margins”.
Following the Ambassador’s speech we were treated to a third and final performance of Irish Theatre’s specially-commissioned play ‘Irish Chaplaincy- 60 Years On’. The piece, written and directed by John Dunne, had been premiered in July at a concert in London to celebrate ‘Irish music, theatre, poetry and the Irish Chaplaincy’. The second performance had been a few days previously at Wormwood Scrubs prison, an experience which one of the actors told me had been one of the most moving of his life.
John Walsh our Chair gave, in his speech, more of the context around the realities facing Irish people in 1957 (a theme which had been explored in the play). And then it was my turn to say a few words. I began by thanking the Ambassador and all of the staff at the Embassy for their great support of the Chaplaincy throughout the year. It is clear that the Embassy value highly our work. I went on to say that it seemed very fitting that I found myself this year as the new CEO of the Chaplaincy, since my own parents had been part of that mass wave of emigration from Ireland in the post-war years. I had been particularly touched when I’d read in Patricia Kennedy’s very good book about the founding of the Chaplaincy, ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, how it was Irish workers in two main sectors who were initially supported: those in the construction industry and those in the service/ catering industries. I explained that when my Dad came over from Galway he worked on the buildings in Coventry and when my mum arrived from Newry she worked in the café of Coventry railway station, and that they were therefore the very kind of people that the Chaplaincy was set up to minister to.
We are now mainly lay people doing the work and the kind of people being supported has changed over the years to include Irish prisoners, Travellers, seniors, and any Irish person who finds themself in any kind of need. I explained how the 60th anniversary year was a time to look back at where we’d come from and to celebrate the good work that has been done. And it was an opportunity to look and to plan ahead. We have made a 3-year plan which includes development and expansion in each of our main project areas. And we have put in place a long-term fundraising programme, by which we hope to finance this expansion.
Thank you to all who work for the Chaplaincy, to all who volunteer their time and gifts, and to those who support us in any way. Just like those 9 priests sent by the Irish Bishops in 1957 to walk alongside Irish emigrants, we will continue to walk alongside Irish people in Britain, especially those who find themselves most in need. And we will look ahead with hope…