Irish Society of East Anglia celebrates 125th anniversary on St Patrick’s Day
Compared with other corners of the globe, the reach of the Irish diaspora may not seem quite so extensive in East Anglia.
The society’s history
Following its creation in 1891, the Irish Society of East Anglia has continued with varying success over the years.
At the outbreak of the First World War, all its members, except the old and incapacitated, signed up to serve in the military. There was no annual St Patrick’s Day dinner in 1915.
Many members did not return from the war and the society was not re-established until 1926.
During the 1930s, a merger with the Norwich Society of Saint Patrick was considered, but the application from the latter organisation – which was considered to be more of a working class group – was dismissed. It folded shortly afterwards.
The society’s ordinary activities were suspended, again, during the Second World War. However, from 1940 to 1943 dances were held in The Samson and Hercules, in support of various war charities.
Full activities were resumed in 1948. Shortly afterwards, women were allowed to join and membership restrictions were gradually relaxed. Today it is open to anyone with an interest in all things Irish.
But as St Patrick’s Day showed, Celtic roots run deep in our region, and its Irish community is still going strong.
The day was celebrated by an event in Norwich marking the 125th anniversary of the Irish Society of East Anglia.
It took place yesterday at the Maids Head Hotel, the venue of the group’s very first St Patrick’s Day lunch in 1892, a year after its creation.
Over the decades, the group has supported and hosted events for people of Irish descent living throughout the region.
John Gardiner, of Hellesdon, is the longest-serving member, having joined in 1976. The 79-year-old, originally from New Ross, County Wexford, said: “It is very important for us, not because we don’t mix with everyone else, but because it is nice to be around other Irish people.
“The two things we never discuss are religion and politics, and it does not matter whether people are from the north or south [of Ireland].
“It is great that after so many years it is still running and hopefully it will continue that way.”
The society was formed on St Patrick’s Day in 1891 by a small group of Irishmen who met at the old Central Cafe on Orford Hill, Norwich.
Membership at that time was confined to “gentlemen of Irish birth” and one of its objectives was to hold an annual dinner on St Patrick’s Day each year.
Today, the organisation has more than 130 members and welcomes people of all backgrounds.
Shivaun Barnes, 70, of Eaton, has been a member for more than 35 years. She said: “It is amazing we have been around for 125 years. It is a big social network and while we embrace anyone, we like to look after our own. We love to be around Irish people and we are very proud to be from Ireland.”
Is your organisation celebrating a major milestone? Call Luke Powell on 01603 772684.