Declan O'Brien reviews Róisín Bán: the Irish in Leeds by Corinne Silva (foreward by Dermot Bolger, introduction by Brendan McGowan), Leeds Irish Health and Homes, ISBN 0 9552529 0 3, £20 hbk
LIKE MANY cities in Britain, Leeds, in Yorkshire, has a long-established Irish community.
From the early part of the 19th century, Irish emigrants crossed the Irish Sea in search of a better life. For the overwhelming majority of emigrants, faced with the problems of poverty and famine, their journey in search of employment in the major industrial centres of Britain was born of economic necessity.
As the publicity which accompanies this beautifully-illustrated and moving account of Leeds' Irish community explains, emigration has been a common theme throughout Irish history.
It is an experience which has touched almost every family in Ireland. As Mayo academic Brendan McGowan, whose grandparents were among those who migrated to Leeds, points out in his excellent introduction, the history of of the Irish in the city "is a microsm of this pattern."
For the fact is that, for a large proportion of the people leaving County Mayo in the west of Ireland over the last two centuries, the Yorkshire city of Leeds has been their chosen destination.
Even though the number of Irish-born inhabitants of Leeds has dropped sharply since the early 1980s - largely as a result of economic changes back in Ireland - the city's Irish population remains around 20,000.
Based around the evocative photographs of Leeds-born documentary photographer Corinne Silva, members of Leeds' Irish community tell their own stories of emigration and exile, of living and working in Britain and of growing up Irish far away from the homelands of their parents or grandparents.
As photographer, Corinne Silva explains: "For centuries, the socio-economic and political relationships between Ireland and Britain have impacted on our society. Róisín Bán is an important record of one Irish community's experience of Britain today." Her photographs, and the interviews which accompany them, tell the story of the Irish in Leeds. But they will send out a echo that will be heard from Co. Antrim to Co. Kerry, from London to Liverpool. Theirs is a story which will be recognised and shared.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2006 Declan O'Brien