A 1950s Irish emigrant's story (cont.)

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HD: Regarding your national identity while living in the UK and Canada, were you continually aware (or made aware) of your Irishness (not necessarily in a racist way)?

RORY: At the time I went to the UK I was very much aware (negatively) of being Irish for one reason only. This was the aforementioned problem of discrimination in accommodation. I did not encounter any real acknowledgement or recognition (positively or negatively) of being Irish. This was more a matter of chance over choice. When I went to London I was totally lost and unaware of the large Irish community in North London (Cricklewood) and actually ended up in south London, eventually Croydon, purely by chance. By contrast, in Canada while there is an active but somewhat hidden Irish community in some cities it is very much matter of who you know and how involved you can become. There is no "Irish area" in the same way that other nationalities have congregated in certain areas of major Canadian cities.

HD: Did your sense (pride) of being Irish increase when you emigrated?

RORY: Very much so. When in the UK there was no real sense of being Irish. For the most part you were just the same as Welsh or Scottish. This however was the late 50s and first half of the 60s!  Once in Canada just "being Irish" was immediately something major to be proud of. My wife became an Irish citizen as soon as we got married in 1968. Our children are Irish-Canadian dual nationals and we have been encouraging them to get our grandchildren registered as Irish citizens also.

HD: Did you send money back home and if so, when did you stop doing that? HD is aware of the enormous contribution of emigrants towards the lives of those living in Ireland.

RORY: This situation never actually arose because in my early years in the UK I barely existed (and I don't even drink and have never smoked) and my parents moved to Nottingham in the early 60s. Once my brother and I left Ireland there was no point in my mother staying as my father also worked in the UK.

HD: In what ways did you affect the lives of those in your adopted countries by being Irish? For example, your sense of humour, your easy-going personality, your interest in many things?

RORY: This perhaps is the only question I can't really answer definitively. If I have affected or influenced anyone here or in the UK it is likely just by my willingness to always help, sharing my knowledge and experiences where practical. We experience much in our lives and learn many lessons over the years, much to be shared with all.

HD: How many times did you think you would like to return to Ireland to live over the years but could not, for various reasons? 

RORY: This question crossed my mind on many, many occasions.  We had/have security here and felt our children's future was in Canada. Even now with the children grown up and living their lives far far away the thought of living in Ireland as retirees is wonderful but not an economic reality. Healthcare alone (free here) would be a major problem. Essentially, you can't live in Ireland on a Canadian income or pension!  We dream of going back to Ireland, at least for a visit in 2013 or 2018 for our 45th or 50th wedding anniversary.

HD: Was it hard when you got news of ill relatives, but were unable to visit Ireland due to other commitments?

RORY: Strange as it may seem, this situation only ever arose once. This was in 1958 when my maternal grandmother passed away in Dublin.  I had no telephone contact and only became aware of her passing after the funeral.  At that stage though, even had I been aware of it I simply could not have afforded to go for the funeral. Living in England then was just an existence. In later years I managed to "commute" to Dublin for weekends every couple of months. I well remember those many crossing from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire on the "Hibernia" and "Cambria" and on rare (thankfully!) the terrible "Princess Maud".

HD: Do you realise that you have been a representative of your country while living in your adopted countries? Did that ever influence the way you did things?

RORY: The answer to this question is a very sad "NO"! In England you were accepted as being Irish but did not really "flaunt" your Irishness. In Canada the situation is rather different. The Irish here are proud of being Irish and act accordingly. The Irish Embassy in Ottawa do an actually fantastic job in promoting Ireland and the Irish.  BUT, back home in Ireland it seems to us that that Canada does not even seem to exist! We all do everything we can to promote Ireland in Canada, and vice-versa.  In Ireland however, with the Government of Ireland, with RTE, and with Aer Lingus, there just seems to be a blanket obsession with a non-existent country called "America".

HD: Rory, many thanks for your answers. We can't stress the importance of emigrants enough, and your stories have relevance for today's Irish youngsters forced to leave their mother country. We/they are lucky to live in a country that allows them to leave, and for other countries who accept them!

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