Irish emigrants past: “We’d come to build; to build this country for you.”

Great feature piece in the Guardian at the weekend, with a group of earlier reluctant emigrants from Ireland to Britain…

….mostly they want to talk about work. Even Tom Coffey, who is otherwise very quiet and subdued, is voluble in his descriptions of work: “It was 14ft wide and 16ft deep. Yes. What a trench it was. Outside Southampton. It was the length of this room anyway. It was a trench for the fixed gas mains underneath it. They had that bridge down the road in about an hour, reopened the road in an hour. That was 35 years ago.” I ask Tom what stories he’d heard about England before he’d come here. “Not good ones anyway,” he says. So why did he come? “There was nothing for me there,” he says softly.

It’s all part of a documentary charting the return of working men after a lifetime in England:

  • USA

    Touching….I know the story all too well.
    Corncrake Sean made me smile at the end 🙂

  • pippakin

    I wrote about it, from a childs viewpoint. We had a big family and lived reasonably close to each other. I don’t remember bad times in the fifties in England but I wonder sometimes if it must have been different for those who had no one.

    I think its different now, for a start the industrial schools are not turfing children out with nothing and no one and education has vastly improved. Irish people now apply for and have every reason to expect to get the good jobs.

  • Greenflag

    I have known in my lifetime some of those who took the boat including near relations . I knew two (non relatives) -one of whom returned to Ireland at one point and while the rest of us were scraping together the money to put down a 25% deposit on a house the returned emigrant paid cash on the nail. Several years later he returned to London as he was ‘unhappy’ living in a small town not too far from Dublin where the ‘locals ‘ would’nt move their arses if their pants were on fire 😉

    Another chap who I met in Africa who came from a small farming background in the south east -worked in the car industry in England and became ‘frustrated ‘ with the ‘restrictions ‘ and ‘piece work ‘ system . During a ‘strike ‘ and on a whim he visited several ‘colonial ‘ offices near Trafalgar Square and ended up in the police initially in a southern african country and then left the police after a year to go into his own business . Now a multi millionaire with several homes and a farm in Ireland and properties in the UK and elsewhere .

    What had these tow chaps in common apart from being Irish? Although they never knew each other they were from the same part of the country and grew up about 40 miles from each other and to my ear they were both ‘culchies’.

    Neither was particularly religious and from my memory neither ever even discussed the subject . History was a long time ago and their knowledge was basic to non existent . One had served in the Irish Army with the UN . Neither was educated beyond primary school and in one case a couple of years in a technical school . Both never drank or smoked and focused all their energies on their families and their business. Both abhorred politics and were ‘doers ‘ rather than talkers .

    One retired to Ireland and the other still seems to be moving around not yet deciding where to hang up his final pair of boots .

    You won’t find better people on the face of the earth and I know because I’ve been around (perhaps a biased exaggeration there for I’ve met such people everywhere I’ve been .

  • Sean o Russell

    A Rebel I came and I’m Still the same……And I wish I was back home in Derry….Van Diemans Land was a Hell for remand….