“This is an itch you can’t scratch.”
When I first put together the proposal for The Plastic Podcasts, I had a romantic notion of travelling from bar to bar, centre to centre, a digital recorder in one hand and a pint in the other. I would sit among grey-haired fellas from the auld sod as they regaled me with tales of getting off the boat and making their way in a new land.
Maybe there’d be a guitar involved. There’d definitely be some singing.
Like I say: a romantic notion, cut short by Covid.
I don’t think I’ll get anywhere as near to it as I did when interviewing Sheron, Liam and Tommy. Okay, so the auld sod and the guitar were nowhere in evidence but the mix of gossip and story, of pride and gentle ribbing were all present and (in)correct.
But the most abundant quality in our conversation was love. A love of the building and its place in their own pasts, of course, but also for what the Leeds Irish Centre means not just for the diaspora but the people of Leeds generally.
It’s a cliché to think of an Irish centre as a cabin for the craic: of Irish dancing and boozy singalongs, though it has those things for sure. But it’s also a hub for the community. It’s the place where Tommy has coordinated food parcels for the hungry of Leeds during lockdown. It’s where Liam has organised benefits to raise money and provide medical equipment for local hospitals. It’s where Sheron’s relatives can enjoy a little taste of home.
The story of Leeds and the diaspora isn’t a commonly told one. We tend to focus on the corridor between the north west and south east when we talk of poor Paddy working on the railway. But it’s a powerful story: of hardships and family and lifelong connections.
It’s an ongoing story.
And in the hands of people like Sheron, Tommy and Liam, it’ll continue to be told for at least another 50 years.