A 1950s Irish emigrant's story

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Rory from Northern Ontario, Canada, was born and bred in Dublin but emigrated in his mid teens, firstly to the UK in the late 1950s and then to Canada. He has very kindly agreed to be interviewed by hidden-dublin [HD], and his story is quite different from that of Tony Ward's. If anything, his story shows some of the immense difficulties faced by past emigrants, only some of which are relevant to today's Irish emigrants.

HD: Tell us the reason(s) for leaving Dublin (was it a decision which was forced upon you (perhaps employment), or did you make your own decision)?

RORY:  This decision, self-made,  was largely one of economics and practicality.  After my 15 months in Cherry Orchard Hospital in Dublin and returning to school my education flopped from achieving a rare 100% math score in my Primary Cert I was then failing every class, and just decided on my own to go to England.  Only during subsequent years did I discover that after my TB Meningitis hospital stay my vision was critically impaired and I had not been able to read lessons on return to school (St. Mary's College in Rathmines) or even see the blackboard clearly! On one of many visits home I picked up my mother's glasses and accidentally realised that I could see much better with them.

HD: You lived in England for about 8 years before continuing your emigration to Canada. What was life like for a sixteen-year-old lad arriving in England? Did you have any relatives or friends who had done the journey before you?

RORY: One word initially; *terrifying*! Arriving in England (south London) it was first of all a shock to face the reality of being on my own, solely responsible for myself. A greater shock when seeking accommodation was to be faced with a multitude of signs "NO COLOUREDS, NO IRISH".  (Anyone who lived in the UK in the 50s will remember these).  An even greater shock was the realisation that as a 16 year old I could not possibly earn enough to survive or even exist. Consequently when applying for a National Insurance Card I subtracted two years from my year-of-birth in order to qualify to obtain employment as an adult. (My first job was as an inspector on the 17 inch black and white television production line at Philips on Purley Way in Croydon).

HD: When you left England for Canada did you think of returning to Ireland?

RORY: By the time I left England for Canada at the end of 1965 my parents had moved to and lived in Nottingham while my young brother who had lived in the UK briefly had already moved on to Canada. My grandparents in Ireland had all already passed away and there was no infrastructure left to draw me back. At this time I had qualified and been approved for emigration to both Australia and Canada. A combination of my brother already being here, the Canadian cold versus the Australian heat plus Australia's upside-down seasons made me choose Canada.

HD: Any major regrets about your emigration; anything you might have done differently with hindsight?

RORY: This is a difficult question to answer conclusively as there are so many relevant factors. My first regret is that because the consequences of my stay at Cherry Orchard Hospital (where they saved my life) the side effects were never discovered and I was unable to continue my education. Had I been able to continue my education in Dublin my prospects would have been much better and I would have loved dearly to become involved actively in the Irish political scene. Only after moving to Canada was I able to further my education in any way and subsequently qualified as a Fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers (FICB) at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. By then my roots were here; married and with three growing Canadian-born children whose futures were in Canada; moving "home" to Ireland was not a realistic option.  What is apparent is that had things been different, I might never have gone to the UK but still might well have gone directly from Ireland to Canada eventually.

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