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The love of the Irish

Jane Clinton reports on the pastoral work of a charity which offers support for older folk

12 December, 2018 — By Jane Clinton

Manager Paul Raymond offers support at the Irish Chaplaincy

IN the 1950s and 60s when the Irish came in to Euston station after taking the ferry crossing, Catholic priests would often be waiting to intercept them before they were approached by shady characters intent on exploiting them.

It may seem a world away from the Euston of today but that pastoral tradition continues.

The Irish Chaplaincy, which shares premises with the Irish Centre in Camden Square, was set up in 1957 and Catholic priests would make contact with Irish people working in the construction and hospitality industries.

Today it offers support for older Irish people, Irish prisoners and Irish Travellers irrespective of their religious faith.

Funded in part by the Government of Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Emigrant Support Programme, it also relies on the support of trusts, businesses and Friends.

While grants and one-off donations are crucial to the charity’s work, which helps more than 1,000 people a year, the need is outstripping their slender resources.

“Having regular income, no matter how small, would allow us to continue with the hugely valuable work we do,” explains Eddie Gilmore, chief executive of the Irish Chaplaincy.

He is speaking ahead of the launch of their Cairde programme (Cairde is Gaelic for friends) which encourages people to commit to regular giving as well as calling for people to volunteer.

Their outreach and advocacy work offers company and conversation to those Irish older people who may be suffering isolation or loneliness or with more practical concerns.

Another key part of their work involves supporting Irish prisoners and their families. The team of project manager Gerry McFlynn, with colleagues Breda Power and Ellena Costello, supported by national caseworker Liz Power, make regular visits to these prisoners, offering support and advice but they would like to do more.

Within that prison community Irish Travellers are also part of the Chaplaincy’s core work. According to the charity, there are more than 1,000 Irish men and women in custody in England and Wales – the second-largest ethnic group in the prison system. Many of these show signs of, or are being treated for, mental health issues and some also have severe learning difficulties.

Almost half of the prisoner service clients are from the Irish Traveller community.

In all, the charity has a core staff of around nine, which is made up of around six outreach workers. The staff are bolstered by some dedicated volunteers.

When you read some of the comments from those helped by the Chaplaincy it is clear how important their work is.

“I was on the verge of suicide and your letter stopped me, now I feel someone cares,” writes one prisoner from HMP Wymott.

Loneliness is also a theme that runs through the comments from the older people the Seniors Team, headed up by manager Paul Raymond, visits regularly.

“It was lovely speak to you,” said one. “I have spoken to no one today. It is awful and boring.”

Another woman revealed: “I’ve been counting the days until your next visit.”

With more funds the Chaplaincy could reach more people in their homes and in prisons.

Every year it supports more than 700 Irish prisoners in England and Wales (there are more than 300 Irish Travellers in prison); as well as 300 families of prisoners.

Of the 110 elderly Irish living alone in London around 85 per cent of will have poor mental health issues.

In three years’ time they would like to be in touch with “200 elderly Irish” and working more in areas including mental health and dementia.

It is the difference their work has on people’s lives that keeps them hugely inspired and determined.

As one Traveller prisoner from HMP Bronzefield thanking them for Traveller magazines the Chaplaincy sent to her remarked poignantly: “They do uplift my spirit and remind me to be proud of who I am and where I come from.”

• For more information about the Irish Chaplain­cy and the Cairde programme contact it at 52 Camden Square, NW1 9XB. Call 020 7482 5528, email: admin@irishchaplaincy.org.uk or visit www.irishchaplaincy.org.uk

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