By David Hennessy
A mosaic celebrating the Irish community’s contribution to life in Islington has been unveiled in a square also named in their honour.
The mosaic, created by local schoolchildren, was unveiled on Wednesday 22 March by the Mayoress of Islington Cllr Marian Spall and Irish Ambassador Martin Fraser with the help of the children. In attendance was former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Mayor of Islington Troy Gallagher from Donegal.
Year 5 pupils from St Joseph’s, Yerbury, Hargrave Ark and St John’s Upper Holloway primary schools worked on the piece which features the Whittington Hospital where many Irish nurses worked.
The artwork was commissioned by Islington Council and designed by Catherine Clark and Maud Milton.
The nine panels depict the lives of Irish navvies and nurses, and Irish heritage through items such as coins, national symbols and traditional Celtic art.
The mosaic can be seen at the newly created Navigator Square – a name which was picked by residents. It is taken from the early Irish “navvies” who found jobs in construction in England in the 19th century.
Generations of Irish Londoners made Archway their home and the mosaic is close to the Archway Tavern, which was a popular place for Irish Londoners to enjoy music before they headed down Archway Road to the Gresham ballroom.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, told The Irish World: “This is an amazing occasion in Navigator Square, named after the Irish workers and that was done by public poll in the area.
“I strongly supported naming it Navigator Square.
“This used to be the centre where Irish building workers got jobs at the Archway Tavern, all the pubs around here played Irish music, there was Green Ink Irish Book Shop down here as well.
“And great campaigns were mounted here such as the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and many others in halls and pubs around here.
“We’ve got this fantastic mosaic this morning made by the children and I think it’s a great thing.”
In response to the Irish community being close his heart, Jeremy said: “Absolutely. Very much so, particularly the contribution the Irish community have made, discrimination against the Irish community, the sadness of many migrant Irish building workers some of whom were sadly abominably abused in children’s homes in Ireland and they have therapy groups here.
“It has been my pleasure to work with the Irish community over all the time I have been an MP and I will continue to do so.”
Unveiling the work council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz said: “Archway has always been my home and throughout the time I’ve lived in Archway, the Irish community has always been a really strong part of Archway.
“Today is really special because it celebrates the past, the history of the Irish community, the fact that they literally built our city, the fact that they cared for our people.”
She added that the mosaic was “handcrafted, just like the navigators who handcrafted our roads.”
“It’s important to celebrate the diversity of our community at the moment.
“We know that that isn’t something that comes easily.
“The safety and contribution of migrants that have given us so much is something that has been fought for and sadly has to be continued to be fought for and we all play a role in that.
“We celebrate, we remember and we protect our beautiful community in Islington.”
Mayoress of Islington Cllr Marian Spall said: “I wish to pay tribute to the generations of Irish people who made Islington and London their home we thank them for their contribution along with migrants from all over the world who made the decision to leave their communities and form new ones here.
“To all second, third and even fourth generation Irish people, this mural is for you too as it is today for all of us.”
Kathy Walton and Rachel Isherwood from Meitheal Cheoil entertained with traditional music that was popular with the Irish community arriving in London.
Kathy works with Islington Council while Rachel is a former student of St Joseph’s, one of the schools involved.
Kathy explained that they would start with tin whistles because often when people arrived from Ireland the whistle was the only music they had as they were unable to carry accordions or fiddles so came with whistles in pocket.
Ambassador Martin Fraser said: “It’s wonderful to be here today. I’d like to thank all the children for all the work they did on this wonderful, wonderful mosaic.
“It makes me really proud as Irish ambassador to see what our community has done recognised by your community.
“The story of the Irish in London is a long, long story, a hard story at times but a story of great achievement as well. It’s great to see it marked here.
“A word about the musicians, thank you for your wonderful playing. I was listening and I was thinking that was probably the music that the navvies played when they were here, that made them maybe think of home. Some could get home, some couldn’t.
“It was lovely to have the music here today.”
Cllr Roulin Khondoker, Executive Member for Equalities, Culture and Inclusion said: “In Islington, we stand with our communities to make sure they feel connected, and we are proud of the diversity and inclusion that exist here. It is so important that we recognise and celebrate each other’s cultures, so I am delighted to see this mosaic installed celebrating our wonderful Irish community. Local people have been at the heart of this project, and I hope that they will enjoy the finished piece for many years to come.”
Artist Maud Milton said: “I had a wonderful experience working with Islington Council to create this mosaic. Community is central to all my work, and I’m delighted that four local schools could contribute hundreds of hand-made tiles to this mural. I recently traced my own Irish heritage, and I hope this will inspire the people of Archway to feel connected to their own heritage too.”
Clare McFlynn, Executive Headteacher, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School said: “At St Joseph’s we have many staff and pupils of Irish heritage, and many more without. But the heritage in our community belongs to all of them. We were delighted to work with Islington Council on this mosaic and that the values of collaboration and community are forged both inside and outside the classroom. As we say in Irish, go raibh míle maith agaibh, thank you all very much.”