THE FELLING IRISH ASSOCIATION
In the weeks leading up to St Patrick’s Day 2008 two old friends, Desmond Costello and George Law, got into a conversation about the demise of St Patrick’s Day Celebrations in the Felling. In the past, events had been held by the Knights of St Columba at the Columba Club (now the Holly Hill Sports & Social Club) but since the demise of KSC Council 24 (Gateshead) little had been done in the way of celebrating St Patrick’s Day and the history of the Irish in “the Felling” was beginning to be forgotten.
From the 19th Century there had been a huge number of Irish ex pats living in the Felling and surrounding area. These immigrants had large families who married into similar large families with the result that today many people who were born in the Felling area are still proud to put down IRISH as their ethnic origin.
Whilst Des and his wife, Kathleen, had moved to ‘The Felling’ from Limerick in 1953, George had been born here although his father’s family had originated from County Antrim and his mother’s family from County Armagh.
After much discussion Des and George thought something should be done about the lack of Irish celebrations and the first ideas about “The Felling Irish Association” began to emerge in May 2008. This was not their first joint planning operation. In 1986 these two men had started St Patrick’s 200+ Club to help convert the crypt of St Patrick’s Church, Felling into a Parish Centre. They were quickly joined by another former member of the Knights, Michael Mahon, who came to England from Drumshambo, County Leitrim in 1949.
A committee was formed and a Constitution drawn up with the result that the Felling Irish Association was ‘born’ on the 10th August 2008 – the 39th birthday of one of our long serving committee members – Bernadette “Charley” Rutland.
The goal of this Association was to promote Irish Culture and to provide an outlet for both young and old to mix together in order that families could enjoy events whilst keeping their Irish roots alive thus promoting family values. It was decided that all profits would be donated to local charities and good causes and as far as possible to employ local musicians in order to keep the money in the community. By the end of 2015 they had raised in excess of £50,000 for this purpose but it’s the associations work with the people of the community which has really benefited from its growing popularity.
Not to be mistaken for a Charity, the FIA extends its hand to the community in more than just a financial way. As a keen contributor to community forums, the FIA sees itself as having a key role in the unification of a multicultural and multifaceted society with networking with many local groups such as the local Diversity Forum.
Since 2009 they have held St Patrick’s Day Celebration at the Holly Hill Sports and Social Club, as well as other Irish themed nights throughout the year. At all these events The Kelly Hendry School of Irish Dance have provided a display of Irish Dancing.
On 15th October 2010 the FIA were presented with a Waterford Crystal Photo Frame by Michael Keaveney of the Irish Embassy in recognition of the Associations efforts in promoting Irish Culture when the association had only been going for two years. In 2015 they won the Gateshead Council Award Voluntary Organisation of the Year “For outstanding services to the community of Gateshead”.
Most of our social events have been held in the Holly Hill Club but we also have an annual outings such as a Family Day Out to Beamish Open Air Museum as well as a trip for our older members for a Fish and Chip Dinner at Colman’s Restaurant at South Shields. Des quoted “The idea was to try and get some of the more isolated members of our community out of the house for a few hours and put a smile back on their faces. They seemed to enjoy the fish and chips as well!”
In 2012 we ran Ceili Dancing Instruction for All which was followed up in 2013 by an Intergenerational Music Group from which The Geordie Shamrocks band was formed. Most of these musicians were young people and we allowed them to decide on the name of the band and design their own logo. They opted for Geordie Shamrocks to demonstrate the fact that whilst they were Geordies their ethnic roots are Irish. Their badge is an image of the Tyne Bridge across a Shamrock.
One of our popular events was the production of “Finnegan’s Wake” which was shown in both the Holly Hill Club and the Felling Community Centre. Another is our Tea Dances which are held not only in the club but also in sheltered accommodation for those unable to get out.
Our biggest success to-date was the production of the double DVD “When Paddy Met Geordie”. This is the recollections of local Irish people coming to this country over the years.
In 2015 we also formed a sister group The South of Tyne Irish Society as a means of further promoting Irish Culture. Both groups are members of The Irish in Britain.
Over the years we have worked closely with other Irish groups such as the Newcastle-Gateshead Rose of Tralee group.
Membership of the Felling Irish Association is open to all, you do not need to have any Irish connection, for a one-off payment of £1. We already have nearly 1,000 members. For further information contact: