12 January 2006 Edition
A very Kerry Christmas in London
Sam Maguire goes to London - Ferris initiative for Irish centres
The Sam Maguire Cup and 500 Christmas cards and presents made Christmas 2005 a very special occasion for 500 Irish emigrants in London.
The initiative taken by Toiréasa Ferris, Sinn Féin Mayor of Kerry, came after a trip to the Cricklewood Homeless Concern, the London Irish Centre and Arlington House last October. All deal with Irish people who fell on hard times after moving to England.
"I was shocked and saddened by what I had seen on the visit," Ferris told An Phoblacht. "Particularly in Arlington House, which is 30 years old and completely unsuitable for housing its mainly elderly residents.
"The place smells like a urinal and is filthy. The rooms can only take a single bed and many are scruffy. The place is infested with bugs and pest control are continually called."
Ferris and the group, including Kerry councillors, the Bishop of Kerry and the County Manager, met residents and heard their stories. Some had lived in the House for 50 years and their address made it impossible to get a job. Some had been victims of institutional or domestic abuse. Many have no contact with family or friends from Ireland.
In November Kerry primary schools were asked to make cards for the emigrants, as many of them had told Ferris they never received post.
The centres planned to have a Christmas party on the 21 December and a decision was made to make another visit to London at that time. The chairman of the Kerry County Board, Seán Walsh was contacted. He had also visited London and agreed to organise a Kerry player to attend the Christmas party and generously gave some tracksuits and Kerry jerseys.
Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff managed to organise the Sam Maguire Cup for the trip.
"It was due to the thoughtfulness and kindness of the ordinary people of Kerry and the staff of Kerry County Council that we achieved our goal of 500 Christmas presents," Ferris said.
The visit was warmly welcomed by the Irish men and women, who were delighted to see Ferris back, this time with her father Martin Ferris TD, other councillors and two GAA players. They were particularly pleased to see the Sam Maguire, GAA being the only point of contact many had with their old home.
"I'm hoping that this will be the first of many such gestures by not only the people of Kerry, but of this country," Ferris said. "It is possibly one of the most worthwhile all Ireland project that we could work on. Too many have gone to the grave thinking that no one remembers or cares and we need to ensure that those who remain in such centres throughout Britain realise that is not the case."