By Lauren Entwistle
MORE THAN 5,000 people poured into Millennium Square to celebrate the Leeds Irish community with the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade last Sunday.
Former Leeds United footballer Noel Whelan was invited to cut the ribbon at the event, now in its 18th year, and then led the procession with Belfast-born Mayor of Leeds, Gerry Harper.
Whelan, whose father is Irish said: “I think it’s important to celebrate where our families are from and celebrate Ireland.”
“There are many, many Irish people in Leeds and it’s great to bring everyone together and mark this special day.”
The parade, which included colourful floats, brass bands and vintage buses was organised by ‘Leeds Going Irish,’ who work all year-round to ensure the day is a success.
Jackie Dwyer, Chair of the St Patrick’s Day Committee said: “The parade has been going now for 18 years, and St Patrick’s day is celebrated all over the world – but we didn’t have one in Leeds.
“We thought it would be a good idea, so from small beginnings which were just people getting together and walking around, it’s grown to the point where we have to make more room for the crowd!”
To mark the occasion, the lower rooms of the Civic Hall were specially opened to the public to showcase the history of the Leeds Irish Community.
This included photographs of The Bank, the main Irish district of Leeds and censuses showing details of where families settled following emigration and their new jobs.
Phillipa Dowson, vice-chair of the Leeds St Patrick’s Community said: “I got into this through my job, but even if I were going to leave that tomorrow I’d still be coming to this event and still want to help.
“I’m not Irish, but this is a huge part of the wider Leeds community and it’s such a fun day. Anyone can get involved, whether or not you’ve got Irish heritage.”
Leeds Cathedral held a St Patrick’s Day Vigil on Thursday for those wanting to mark the day.
A history of the Leeds Irish community:
The origins of the Leeds Irish community dates back to the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), which prompted a sharp rise in emigration.
By 1971, the community numbered 31,000 people – that’s more Irish people per square kilometre in inner-city Leeds than in County Mayo which covers more than 2,000 square miles.
Most original settlers lived in the centre of Leeds, but then moved eastwards to dominate an area around Richmond Hill, then called ‘The Bank.’
Without the help of television, radio and general travel, most Irish people had never heard the Yorkshire dialect before and struggled understanding the locals!
As well as the St Patrick’s Day Parade, there is also the Leeds Irish Festival which is held on the other side of the River Aire in Beeston.
Regular events, such as ceilidhs, folk nights, traditional Irish foods and Gaelic football is held at the Leeds Irish Centre, which has been part of the community since 1970.
A census of newly emigrated Irish families.