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Way back in 1995, under the auspices of the London Borough of Hammersmith, the Irish Cultural Centre was formed. Originally known as the Hammersmith Irish Centre, alongside the provision of language and music classes and other cultural activities aimed primarily at the local community, it staged a stupendous regular series of concerts featuring musical acts principally from Ireland but also from Scotland.

From my years of working in the London Borough, I have fond memories of performances by the likes of Kila, Damien Dempsey, Sharon Shannon, the late Sean McGuire and the late Micheal O'Domhnaill, as well as Scottish acts such as Blazin' Fiddles, Fiddler's Bid and the Wrigleys. When the council decided to sell the building in 2011, those at the heart of the centre were able to raise the money and, with help from the Irish government, buy the building. After some considerable time and effort in rebuilding and refurbishing the centre, it finally reopened in 2017 and in November the doors were open again to top-class Irish musicians such as Andy Irvine and Paddy Keenan, whom I saw on my first visit to the new centre, and earlier this year to Sean Keane and Na Mooneys.

On a trip South in June this year I was able to experience two evenings of exuberant music from performers who had appeared at the original centre. The first concert featured long-time colleagues from Four Men And A Dog, bodhrán maestro Gino Lupari and Gerry (banjo) O'Connor, with all-round musical personality Tim Edey on guitar and melodeon. Gerry plays the fiddle as well as the banjo, and the blend of fiddle, guitar, banjo, box and bodhrán was intoxicating, combined with songs from Tim and humour from Gino. It was obvious from the interplay between the performers and members of the audience that many old friends of the musicians were in attendance, making it an occasion for good craic as well as music of outstanding quality. For myself, it was great to see Tim, now based in Donegal, back at the centre, remembering the early days of the Irish Centre when, based in Kent, he would drop by and entertain before the main acts.

Two weeks later saw the return of Mike McGoldrick (who had played with Lúnasa and Flook during the centre's early days, and also with his own band and with Sharon Shannon). On this occasion he brought along old friends Dezi Donnelly on fiddle and Ed Boyd on guitar. Mike was promoting a new album, Dog In The Fog, his first duo album with Dezi, although they first played together many, many years ago in Manchester. As with the earlier concert, the evening proved a great meeting of musicians in fine tune with each other, with Mike's pipes and whistle naturally at home with Dezi's fiddle, and Ed providing immaculate accompaniment on guitar.

Once again it was a case of regular performers from the days of the old centre returning and meeting up with old friends. The future of the Irish Cultural Centre looks bright, in its general showcasing of Irish arts throughout London, as well as more specifically the performance of Irish music. The centre's autumn programme contains visits from Four Men And A Dog and Celtic Fiddle Festival as well as the launch of an album by Kevin Doherty, Ciarán Tourish and James Delaney, and one can look forward to a further outstanding programme in the New Year, anticipating regular visits on Saturday nights from Irish music enthusiasts from all over London and beyond.

Neil Hedgeland