A Reunion

Between 1951 and 1961, 500,000 Irish people emigrated to the UK. The challenges that faced many of the immigrants gave rise to a network of support which came about largely through the initiative of the Oblate Fathers. They set up Welfare Centres in some of the major cites and Sisters in the Province worked with them.

One such place was the IWIC (Irish Welfare and Information Centre) in Birmingham where Sr Teresa Harmon worked alongside Fr Joe Taaffe in serving the Irish community. Earlier Sr Carmel McGowan and Sr Anne Carmel worked with the Irish Community. Out of these initiatives came others and one of these was the Family Housing Association in Birmingham. Among their works was a hostel for homeless Irish men. This closed later due to there being no longer a need and was used by the Family Housing Association for other purposes. The Irish Welfare still occupied some of the building too as accommodation for the Director of Plunket House and staff offices.

Having the Family Housing Association on the premises was a great help as at that time (early 80s) many families were coming to Birmingham from the North of Ireland to escape the Troubles there and needed accommodation. Mr Erik Pearce was the Director of FHA and arranged flats when requested by Irish Welfare.

The Salvation Army Hostel was opposite Plunket House and when a flat became available we were able to furnish it from the Salvation Army. It was a great example of cooperation.

Sr Teresa Harmon writes: “After all these years it was a pleasant surprise to receive from Mr Pearce an invitation to a Reunion in November of this year to be held in the Grimshaw Rooms, Saint Chad’s R C Cathedral, Birmingham to take place on the 18th. Sister Mary Teresa and I travelled by train to New Street the main Birmingham Station which has become part of the famous Bull Ring and to me an even bigger surprise was to find trams outside the station which would take us to Saint Chad’s. It certainly was a comfortable way to avoid the city centre and on arriving at the Grimshaw Rooms we were met and warmly welcomed by Mr Pearce. The Archbishop of Birmingham, Most Reverend Bernard Longley joined the group for an opening prayer and welcome after which there was a shared table as everyone attending was asked to bring something for lunch. As we shared lunch, enjoying a wide variety of savouries and desserts we chatted about ‘old times’. It was nearly thirty years since I left Birmingham so I found it greatly changed place but very enjoyable to be back. It was a pleasant afternoon.”

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