Leeds Irish Centre looks forward to the "hooley of all hooleys" when members can meet again as doors remain shut for St Patrick's Day

Staying home on St Patrick's Day and listening to a virtual message from the community leader goes against all that the Irish community is about.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 6:35 am

Usually on St Patrick's Day, the Leeds Irish Centre and its members would be brushing off the hangovers from a traditional parade through the city centre followed by a celebration of Irish music and culture which leads to drinking and dancing into the night with family and friends.

For the second year, this has been cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown and club officials at the Irish Centre on York Road are desperate to meet members again.

But, they are biding their time and instead of pulling pints, this week they have been packing sandwiches for the city's homeless people.

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Leeds Irish Centre has been flying the flag for Ireland and its spirit during the lockdown. Pictured is centre manager Tommy McLoughlin.

Every week for 20 years they have made dozens of ham, cheese and tomato butties for the independent charity, Simon on the Streets, to hand out and, while the doors have been closed for much of the last 12 months, the centre has been reaching out to its people and the wider community.

Around 800 food parcels and bags of toiletries have been handed out to families via local schools in the area and even though the place has been closed to the public, there has always been someone on the other end of the phone if a member has rung up just to have a natter with someone.

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Tommy McLoughlin is the centre manager at Leeds Irish Centre and told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "We would have had various artists, Irish bands over from Ireland playing in the big room and other music for the younger people in the Davitt bar. St Patrick's Day was the highlight of the year but even last year we only opened the member's room. We did not expect it would be so long, it has been unbelievable."

Mr McLoughlin in the Irish Centre kitchens helping to prepare the sandwiches being made up for homeless people in Leeds.

This year, the management, which also includes Christy Power and Liam Thompson, has recorded a St Patrick's Day message to be broadcast to members via its facebook page where they appeal for people to stay safe, but, eyes are looking forward to when restrictions lift.

Mr McLoughlin added: "June 21? We will come back then with flags flying and get people together again. It will not be like it was but people have missed the place, they have not been here for 12 months and are eager for a good atmosphere with family and friends - and a good pint of Guiness."

Charity Irish in Britain's analysis of 2011 census data shows there were 4,762 people in Leeds who were born in the Republic of Ireland – and a further 3,390 from Northern Ireland.

The numbers make up a significant amount of the city's population and the centre's place within Leeds and the community it serves has been crucial to its success and why it is still thriving.

However, it is awaiting the chance to mark its 50th birthday properly. A book about the history of the centre, written by Sheron Boyle, and released to mark the milestone sold 1,200 copies and 460 tickets had been sold for a dinner which had to be postponed.

Mr Thompson said: "We are here and part of a community and you won't survive unless you are part of that and we are here for everybody. This has been a setback, not a disaster. It is a disaster for people that have lost lives and loved ones, but we will be here for people moving forward and something to look forward to.

"We have a lot of stuff planned for when we can open and the 50th will be the 51st. We had sold 460 tickets for a dinner and we will do that hopefully later in the year. The minute we will be able to celebrate properly it will be the hooley of all hooleys."

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