As part of Traveller History Month in June, the Irish Chaplaincy
organized an event at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London for
Irish Travellers. After a competition (with cash prizes on offer for
the lucky winners) I sang a few old Irish songs and was spontaneously
and ably joined on guitar by one of the men who informed
me that he’d worked as a session musician. There was a great
atmosphere with lots of friendly banter, and this continued during
the shared meal that followed. I was touched when one of the
guys said to me “it’s things like this that help to keep my spirits up”.
We promised to be back for another event near to Christmas, to
which one character shouted out “well I won’t be here, please
God, because I’m due for release in November”!
Somebody asked me during the meal, “How do you sing Irish
songs like that when you’ve got an English accent?” I explained
that it’s what I’d grown up with. My parents were two of the many
thousands of Irish people who came to England in the post-war
years in search of work, and it was to minister to the needs of this
wave of emigrants that the Irish Chaplaincy was founded in 1957.
Inspired by the words of Jesus “I was a stranger and you took me
into your home; I was sick, and you cared for me; I was in prison,
and you visited me”, we will continue to walk alongside the people
we meet at Wormwood Scrubs and elsewhere and with other Irish
people most on the margins.
And true to our word we will be back at the Scrubs for another
event at the end of November. There will be more music, this time
from Hackney Folk who did a great set of traditional Irish music at
our July concert; there will be a performance from Irish Theatre of
the specially-commissioned 2-person play, ‘Irish Chaplaincy- 60
Years on’; and we will once again finish with a meal. As Jesus
showed time and again in the gospel stories, to share food with
somebody is to share in an intimate and profound way something
of our shared humanity. I’m sure this will be another uplifting event