New book explores the lives of Irish migrants in England

The double wedding of Liz and Ronnie, John and Madge, in Welwyn Garden City (1960)

A book which delves into the lives of Irish migrants who moved to the UK in the 1950s hopes to be “a voice” for that generation.

Seanchaí, written by Kathleen Curran, arose after two years sourcing and then interviewing migrants who made that journey, many of whom reside in both the UK and Ireland now.

The book has a personal element: it was inspired by Curran’s own parents, who were Irish immigrants, who came to the UK in the 1950s.

“My driving force was to preserve migrant stories for posterity,” said Curran of the book.

“Many of the people I have spoken to say that their sons or daughters have told them they should write their memories down.”

The stories that she came encountered varied in terms of relative success but she found one commonality: a lack of means.

“Often, although these times were tough, they were happy,” she said. “There is a sentiment common among many of the people I have spoken to – the idea that everyone had the same: no one had anything.”

The book focuses on each person’s circumstances to paint a full picture, she said, including where they originally came from, their family situation, their education, and their reasons for migrating.

Noreen O’Sullivan took six children from Dublin to New York for adoption in 1950

Curran also endeavoured to discover what kind of access to opportunities these people had in the UK when they first arrived. She then teases out the arc of their life to present as clear an avatar of the Irish migratory experience as she could.

“For many, coming over was a necessity as there was no work at home. Others had listened to their friends’ stories about the Galtymore, Garryowen, Glocca Morra, Bamba, and Shamrock amongst other dances,” she said.

“Enticed by these tales they came in search of adventure. When they arrived in England some were lucky enough to be cushioned by having friends and family to go to but others found it tough away from their culture and tradition. However, in many instances, kindness and good fortune intervened somewhere along the way.”

Curran, born to Irish parents who came to London in the 1950s, grew up in Irish communities in Harlesden and Wembley in North-West London.

“It is refreshing to revisit these times, to be reminded how happiness and contentment are often found in simple things,” Curran said.

“That is what has inspired this book: recollections of life as it once was, and all the little things that make big, bold memories.”

Curran added that the book is an “interesting read for anyone with Irish connections or anyone who is an immigrant” and that it includes many nostalgic photos.

Although the book contains accounts of personal tragedy, Curran hopes people find the stories “illuminating,” “uplifting,” and “inspiring”.

Seanchaí is on sale on Amazon and in Gerry Taylor’s Irish Butcher & Grocer,  54 Calverton Road, Luton LU3 2SZ for £7.99.

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