The Irish Centre on York Road in Leeds defies convention.
Ostensibly, it’s a old-style social club but unlike its sibling working mens’ clubs and establishments whose roots are anchored in a time when social norms were somewhat different, it has thrived.
When you consider it’s also somewhat out on a limb, being situated as it is on the relatively dull main drag out of the city that is York Road, this is nothing short of phenomenal.
It was opened in 1970 (so, on June 8, 2020, it will turn 50) on three acres of land bought at the time to accommodate the needs of the Irish community who had descended on the city in search of work and it drew its members from the numerous, already established Irish clubs which existed in the city and whose own origins stretch as far back as the 1880s.
Where it has succeeded is in the sheer breadth of its offering and social clubs which find themselves struggling to keep members - the Irish Centre has over 1,100 - could well take a leaf (or two, or three) out of its book.
Aside from being a meeting place for the ordinary man and woman, it hosts a mesmerising array of social activities, from boxing matches and other sporting events to concerts, weddings, birthdays, funerals and everything in between. Perhaps part of its success comes down to its design and sheer size. There’s plenty of off-street parking and inside are several gargantuan rooms (an Elvis tribute act is playing in one when we arrive). There are rooms to accommodate 100, 350 and one with an overall capacity of 800. They have an on-site kitchen and dedicated chef who will cook to your requirements, meaning they can deal with pretty much anything.
We found ourselves there celebrating a 60th birthday and were given a warm welcome by staff. While you won’t find anything that surprising at the bar (think Coors, Carling, 1664, etc), it’s all of a decent price, with a pint costing around £3.50, which is at least a quid cheaper than town, while a glass of wine will set you back £3.45.
When it opened back in 1970, it was the first purpose-built Irish centre in the country and drew people from across the North. The committee which runs the centre seems to be as nimble as ever, so one can only expect preparations for the half century are already well underway. A quick look at their website reveals a staggering roster of acts and events.
In a world in which modern pubs and clubs have to strive to survive, there’s something reassuringly pleasant about the apparent timelessness of the Irish Centre.
It has been doing its own thing for almost half a century and judging by our visit, it looks set to continue doing so for another 50.
Irish Centre, York Road, Leeds