TOM Cunningham, a Kildysart-born great-grandfather who has lived in the UK Midlands since 1952, has told his local newspaper, the Birmingham Mail, how he has never missed Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Day parade since attending the first event more than 60 years ago.
Tom, 91, has become such a regular visitor to the festival that he cannot walk a few yards without being recognised among the crowds. The pensioner arrived in Britain in 1952, worked on the roads and settled in Handsworth.
Mr Cunningham said, “I’ve been to every single one since it started, when it was very small. I enjoy getting out and meeting people. It’s nice for the Irish to get out and have a few drinks and have the craic.”
Mr Cunningham added that he “always, always” enjoys catching up with friends over a few drinks.
His daughter, Lucy Casey, from Great Barr, said, “Tom never, ever forgot his Irish roots. He still speaks with an Irish accent as strong as the day he came over here. He loves going to the parade to see all the people and the floats and even though he can only walk a few yards with his frame, people are always walking past shouting ‘Tom, Tom’.
“Nowadays, we push him round but he still loves being a part of it all.”
Mr Cunningham, whose wife, Ita passed away three years ago, has three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with another on the way.
Mrs Casey, a home support worker, said, “He was working until he was 70, putting the tarmac on the roads in all weathers, until my mum got Alzheimer’s in 1999. He had to retire after that but he never lost his smile. He’s a cheeky chappy with a good sense of humour, who will chuckle at anything.”
Mr Cunningham has been to the parade every year that it has taken place. The festival has been running since 1996 in its current form in Digbeth. But it goes back to 1952 when it was the first in Britain, having been started by the community to celebrate their heritage and maintain links with their home country.
Thousands turned out in Birmingham on Sunday for this year’s celebration – which fittingly had the theme of the Irish contribution to the city’s development.