A Brief History of the Irish Community in Luton

Post-war opportunities in the English employment market saw a steady stream of people cross the Irish Sea. On arrival they contributed greatly to the development of local infrastructure, manufacturing and the NHS. The community then began to organise and provide essential welfare services to support the most vulnerable.

Irish Farm Hand

Irish Farm Hand

Employment for Irish Migrants

After WW2, there was a huge period of regeneration and building in the UK. Irish immigrants came in their thousands to work on motorway construction and in factories.

The Princess Maud - Irish Migration Ferry

The Princess Maud – Irish Migration Ferry

They caught the boat, most sailing on the Princess Maud, a ship that was known for sea sickness, even on a calm crossing. Luton provided employment for a largely rural Irish population and for many this would be the first time that they had lived in a large town. There are many significant buildings associated with the Irish community in Luton.

Building and Infrastructure Projects.

The Irish provided workers for Vauxhall Motors and its satellite companies. There’s hardly a family that didn’t have someone working there. The Irish also worked at Electrolux and SKF (Skefco). The development of the Motorway system also employed many Irish and while there is no specific building for this, Irish labour contributed to the M1.

Building Community

Mary of the Moulders Pub

Mary of the Moulders Pub

Staying connected with other Irish families mattered and that meant forming communities in Luton’s pubs where people could socialise together, catching up on local news and staying in touch with Irish current affairs. The Moulders was known as an Irish Pub and was run for many years by the legend that was Mary Keaney (nee Cusack) known locally as Mary of the Moulders.

Mary won Publican of the Year in 1980, so she was certainly doing something right to make customers feel welcome.

Churches and Social Clubs

The majority of the Irish in Luton were Catholic and this period saw the founding of new churches to accommodate worshippers. Building St Joseph’s, The Holy Ghost, St Margaret of Scotland and The Sacred Heart churches, to name just some of the Catholic churches, showed that the Irish wanted to contribute something lasting to Luton. With the churches came social clubs which offered community centred connection. The building of schools followed, providing education from age 5 -18. Cardinal Newman High School which was opened in 1968, prides itself on being “a school of the community built by the community.”

Irish Nurses Support the New NHS

Irish Women in Hospital Canteen

Irish Women in Hospital Canteen

With the introduction of the NHS in 1948, many Irish women came to Luton to become nurses at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. The hospital had been opened some years before, but as Luton was growing, there was a need for more nurses. The Irish in Luton have traditionally worked in construction trades and many will have contributed to the building of Luton Airport and its runways.

The Irish are represented too in the many staff that it takes to make a busy international airport run smoothly.

Welfare Services

Luton Day Centre

Not all of the Irish were thriving. The late Sister Eileen O’Mahoney saw a need for a centre to help those who were down on their luck or struggling.

Sister Eileen was a determined woman with a great heart for the Irish community and she managed to secure a property in Park Street, which became The Luton Day Centre, offering welfare advice and providing food and clothing.

This has grown into The Noah Enterprise, still using the Park Street premises, and offering welfare support and education opportunities to all communities in Luton.

Making Its Mark Today

Today, the Irish community continues to make its mark on Luton through an active programme of social, sporting and charitable activities. It showcases it’s talents at public events, most notably its annual St Patrick’s Festival that not only attracts Irish community members from near and far but demonstrates how established the community is within the town and the cross-community friendships that have been built over the decades.


Comments about this page

  • thanks for your encouragement Dermot. Have you any Luton photos ?

    By Paul Hammond (28/12/2021)
  • Thank you for that brilliant and concise summing up of all that the Irish brought to Luton and all that Luton gave to the Irish.

    My family came to Luton from Ireland in 1956. I grew up with my brother and three sisters in Luton and now live in Ireland. For my Father and Mother, Luton offered steady employment, an accessible health and education system and the chance to buy a home, something that would have been impossible for them in the Ireland of the 1950’s.

    Thank you Luton,

    Dermot Kirwan
    Dublin 5

    By Dermot Kirwan (21/11/2021)

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