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Liverpools Irish Centre The Wellington Rooms



The building was designed by the architect Edmund Aikin and built between 1815–1816 as a subscription assembly room for the Wellington Club. It was originally used by high society for dance balls and parties. Neo-classical in style the building's façade is Grade II listed, but it is now derelict, a reflection on the changing wealth and fashions in the city. Built between 1815-1816 as a subscription assembly room for the Wellington Club, the venue provided a worthy setting for the dance-loving Liverpool merchant princes, their friends and families for dance balls and parties. With its gracious architecture and interior design, the building quickly became the centre of fashionable Liverpool life. The Wellington Club was wound up in 1923 but the Rooms continued to function as a social club and place of entertainment throughout the 20th Century, being known in succession as the Embassy Rooms, Rodney Rooms and Rodney Youth Centre.

Although there was a small Irish community in Liverpool before, it was the failure of the potato crop in 1847 and successive years that brought large numbers of Irish people to Liverpool. It is estimated that more than 500,000 came to the city between 1847 and 1851, with thousands more following in later years.

By The turn of the century many had settled in  the north of the city around the Scotland Road area, they also built about 40 churches and not only built schools but provided the teachers for them. The next huge wave of emigrants was in the late 1940s and the Irish continued to arrive on Liverpool's shores into the 50s and 60s and were now setting up homes throughout the city.  There were three branches of the Gaelic League in Wood Street, Burlington Street and Crosby and also Irish activities taking place in many parish halls across Liverpool. But still there was no Irish Centre.

In 1961 following a visit to St Brendans Irish Centre in Manchester by a group of Liverpool Gaelic footballers, Fr Michael O'Connor a young Kerry priest who was based at Christ the King in Childwall, said "If Manchester can do it so can Liverpool".

Representatives of the Gailic League and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann had been meeting regularly for some time and had decided that the main reason that a centre had not been opened in Liverpool was because of the incompatibility of the various Irish Societies, for example, the Gaelic League constitution did not allow them to be involved in anything other than strict Ceili and the Gailic Athletic Association (GAA) had similar rules relating to games.

So it was that a group of Irish people not representing any formal Irish organisation were called together to form "The Irish Centre Building Fund Committee". At a meeting in the home of Hugh Cullen in Cornice Road, Old Swan, on the 24th March 1961, the minutes recorded that Fr Michael O'Connor said "we should try to buy an old cinema or house, suitable as an Irish Centre".

Many functions were held to raise funds at venues such as the Philharmonic Hall and at Christ The Kings Parish Hall.  On Sunday 5th January 1964 an emergency meeting was called when the news that 127 Mount Pleasant was for sale, reached the committee. With loans from the brewery and Guinness and the support of the community enough money was eventually raised.


On February 1st 1965 the Irish Centre officially opened and was welcomed by hundreds of Irish people at a dinner party. There were 2 bars, the JKF bar which was on the left as you walked in and there was the all-Ireland bar which was situated on the right as you walked through the door. The first chairman of the Old Irish Centre was Tommy Walsh who was born in Liverpool but came from Irish decent.



The Ballroom 1965

For many years Tommy worked so hard to help get the new Irish Centre up and running and all the work payed off. During the troubles life was very hard and the Irish centre went through a lot of pain but eventually recovered strong after peace had been declared. Many bands visited the Irish Centre, with many saying how wonderful the building was. The Comhaltas Liverpool branch had been up and running and also became a good solid irish traditional music group thanks to the work of Maura Kennedy. There was a shop located close to the door way where loads of Irish goods were sold as well as a Restaurant where many famous Irish stews/soups were cooked.

The Croc an Oir (Irish for Crock of Gold) shop in Liverpool's
former Irish Centre in Mount Pleasant, pictured in 1991


The All Ireland Bar


The Claddagh Room

The Ballroom 1973

Services manager John Fitzgerald Coyne in the
former Irish Centre's John F. Kennedy bar
Sean McNamara from Childwall (far left), playing the fiddle in the Liverpool Ceili band in the Irish centre, 1964

The John F Kennedy Bar



The Irish Centre closed in the late 1990s and the lease of the building passed to a property developer who wanted to convert and extend the building to create a hotel. The project was refused planning permission, as it was felt that the conversion would not preserve the integrity of the building.

Liverpool City Council has in the past tried to identify a viable scheme to restore and bring back into use the Grade II  listed Wellington Rooms, a Georgian Assembly Rooms and Ballroom. The building is on English Heritage's national 'Buildings at Risk 'Register, and is a key public landmark identified by Liverpool City Council in its 'Stop-the-Rot' campaign. Heritage Works has undertaken two feasibility studies/options appraisals, which have provided the Council with information to assist in taking statutory action. Numerous plans were put forward to make a new use for the Irish Centre after its closure, the most controversial being to convert it into a hotel with a four-storey glass cube on top. Sadly, to date the building still lies empty.






Liverpool currently has St Michael's Irish Centre, described on its website as "like a second home to all of its members and people here are an extended family. There is a wonderful mix of generations so that anyone can turn up and know they will find a friend to have the craic with. Parents can bring children along to play with friends while they relax knowing they are welcome. It is also an excellent place for the more mature members to socialise somewhere they feel comfortable and can spend time with their younger family members".






Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCE) is a group that is  involved worldwide in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music, language and dance. Liverpool CCE is non-profit making branch of this global organisation, and their aim is to pass on the culture of music, song, language and dance to future generations to enjoy.


Based at  St Michaels Irish  Centre  In Everton, they hold regular Lessons there on Mondays nights. The Teachers are all  experienced musicians who give their time and knowledge on a voluntary basis. This enables them to keep prices affordable. To improve confidence and encourage friendships they hold regular performances and expect all music students to attend when possible. They also encourage students to enter competitions either on a regional, national or global level. These are always  highlights of the year and enjoyed greatly by all who attend.



  

Further Information
Email  comhaltas@stmichaelsirishcentre.org
Telephone O151 928 5930 


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Sources

Liverpool Records Office Archives
Liverpool Central Library
English Heritage

Robert F Edwards


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