Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens abroad

Growing up in one place but calling another place ‘home’

Lynda Callaghan grew up as an Irish child in Leicester. Now she is documenting the stories of the elder Irish community, finding out what brought them there and what life was like for them as Irish immigrants.

Sat, Aug 25, 2012, 01:00

   

Lynda Callaghan grew up as an Irish child in Leicester. Now she is documenting the stories of the elder Irish community, finding out what brought them to England and what life was like for them as Irish immigrants.

Lynda (right) with her mother, father and grandmother in Leicester

Like many second generation Irish abroad I grew up living in one place but calling another place “home”. I missed out on having a granny around the corner to give me sweets after school, but I got to home every summer for what seemed like weeks on end.

I grew up in Leicester, and since last September I have been investigating the links and connections that helped build the strong Irish community that now exists here.

With the help of The Emerald Centre I have been interviewing elders of the Irish community to find out their motivation for coming to Leicester, the work they did, and what life was like for them here.

This project has taken me to parts of my own city I didn’t know existed, and has brought back my own memories of night ferries and  shamrock boxes.

What I have realised is that my story is our story: we all have tales of leaving loved ones behind, getting work where we can and reuniting with fellow Irish when we settle somewhere new. The treasured communion photos are repeated time and time again as are the bottles of holy water and the JFK plates.

One aspect of immigrant life that comes up over and over again is personal space and the lack of it. Mary told me of the morning post falling on the heads of her children as they slept in the bed pushed up against the front door, and another woman spoke of sharing a room in a B+B when she’d assumed it would be sharing a bed. Men lived eight to a room with no cooking facilities, and night shift workers slipped into the warm beds that their roommates had just got out of before a day working on the motorway or down the mines.

People are incredibly generous as they share their memories and photos, tears and laughter with me. The stories aren’t new but they are all the more poignant for that: they describe a common story of leaving home for new opportunities, good and bad. That links us all.

To read more about Lynda’s research, or to contact her, see lynda-callaghan.blogspot.co.uk or follow @irishleicester on Twitter.

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