An Irish Welcome: A night to remember

‘Is fearr cáirde ná ór!” (Friendship is better than gold). Stories shape our world, they can unite us and help us to eventually heal. Memory does that too.’  (From An Irish Welcome)

On Friday 18 March, Chol Theatre presented An Irish Welcome, a play celebrating stories from the Irish community in Huddersfield. 

Using testimonies and recorded interviews, and featuring a community cast, the sold-out performance showcased the Irish community’s history, and explored their experiences of arriving and living in Huddersfield. 

Written by Carly-Ann Clarke, co-director at Chol, the play was performed at the Irish Centre, Fitzwilliam Street, and brought Huddersfield’s Irish Community together through a carefully woven narrative from stories gathered and shared by the community. The narrative was set up following the main character’s Oisin and Emer, exploring their arrival into Huddersfield and their life that followed, based on actual events. 

The play also featured a local Irish band, who helped to weave the story together through the love and soul of Irish folklore and songs, celebrating the impact that music has on people. The melodies helped to move the audience through the different eras, as they sang along to Grace and Dirty Old Town.

Audience members described An Irish Welcome as, “better than what’s on the tele”, and, “really took me back, I was in tears from the off”, with murmurs of encouragement for the play to be performed in Irish centres across the country. Many viewers said that the play enabled them to recognise feelings, relationships and memories that they had experienced themselves.

Clarke said: ‘Writing this play was truly special. When writing it, I thought a great deal about my own Irish family, and the tales I’ve been exposed to throughout the years. It helped me to learn more about my history and heritage. Music has always been an important part of my life, (I was named after a singer – my dad had high hopes!), and I felt that music needed to be a big part of the play, as its timelessness and power enables us to share a feeling and a story in a moment. We are so grateful for our superb actors who approached the script with heart and feeling… 

Irish storytelling has the power to make tears fall and then laughter overtake in a heartbeat, and this is what I hoped to achieve with the play. Hearing the audience sing, revel, laugh and the moments of silence in which we all felt the longing and missing, was very powerful.”

The event was a true testimony to the power of community and friendship, and the strength of the Irish Community in Huddersfield and across England. 

An Irish Welcome is part of Chol’s wider heritage project, funded by High Street Heritage Action Zones (HSHAZ) – a heritage-led regeneration initiative led by Historic England, working with local councils and the community to create economic growth and improve the quality of life in our historic high streets. You can find out more here.

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