Jeanne Rathbone

Irish activism in 80s London.

 I found these newspaper cuttings from the 1980s when I was in the attic taking photos of the crosses I made for my RECLAIM THE CROSSES ART PROJECT. During the 80s I got involved in Irish community activities in trying to get an Irish dimension into the anti-racist/equal opportunities agenda. This was a time of quite overt and virulent anti- Irish sentiment related to the colonial induced ’troubles’ in northern Ireland and the IRA actions in Britain. It was manifested in anti-Irish jokes, cartoons etc. These were reminiscent of an earlier Victorian expression of anti-Irish feeling from the time of the famine, through Home Rule agitation to the uprising and civil war in Ireland after partial independence in 1920. I got involved with trying to introduce an Irish perspective into areas of policy – health, housing, education, gender etc. I was on the ILEA Irish Working Group, in Irish Women’s Perspectives, Irish Women in Wandsworth, South London Irish Women’s Group, Irish People and Equal Opportunities and the Battersea and Wandsworth Irish Group.

I did not mix with Irish people or get involved with the Irish community when I first came over to London during the 60s and 70s.  I did not know many Irish people when I first came over as I did not go to Irish pubs or clubs or attend the local Catholic Church. I had met Dave, got married, started to have children, got involved in local political life and studying for a degree in Philosophy. I felt that the traditional Irish community who frequented such places were conservative, rural and Catholic. 

 Like many Irish women I integrated and married ‘out’. Later I was to discover the different pattern of emigration for Irish men and women. More women had immigrated to Britain than men despite the stereotype of the male immigrant. So, it seems that women had integrated more than men. There were explanations for this.  

This was taken by Terry Smith for the Irish Post of me speaking at a conference held in Camden Town Hall in 1990. 

Ireland was and is a small country. After ‘independence’,  under De Valera’s presidency Ireland became very inward looking as a way of shaking off the Britrish colonial yoke as if it could be done so easily. Post war Ireland was economically stagnant and Britain needed labour and recruited in Ireland and the Caribbean for staff for the NHS and for public transport as well as for building workers for the reconstruction in the aftermath of the war.  Ireland was still a very rural economy and community whereby sons inherited land and daughters were expected to get married. Women became more likely to stay on in secondary education compared to their brothers. Many then left the countryside to come to the towns and cities for work, to attend university and to emigrate to Britain or America with a higher percentage of us coming to England. Many Irish women trained as nurses within the NHS.

 Irish Working Group on ILEA.

 Ceili Band  

Me posing and chatting at the book launch of Across the Water


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: