‘Dad kept the garden lovely. I saved the pink roses now blooming in my own’
Family Fortunes: Mam looked after the house but the garden was Dad’s kingdom
“Mam and Dad and Mam’s sister in their garden.”
My heart dropped and I fought back tears passing my old home recently. The house was the same but nothing remained of the garden, not even a flower. It was home to my parents for most of their married life.
They met in London during the war, married there and returned home to Ireland when my sister was born. Like a lot of Irish emigrants in the 1940s, the prospect of some fun in the bright lights of London attracted them. My mother and her two sisters came from a very large Connemara family and emigration was a way of life.
They worked all kinds of jobs from shop work to aircraft factories. Slough was their base, living in a hostel specially designated for emigrant Irish workers and it was there she met my dad who came from a small town in north Galway. The faded yellowing photos from that time depict a couple happy with their life, smiling faces with family and friends casually lounging outdoors on armchairs, cigarettes between the fingers and both men and women wearing loose baggy trousers.
Returning to Ireland in the early 1950s was a gamble and was based on the promise of running a small family business. A promise that subsequently was not honoured which meant an uncertain future. My mother with one small child and expecting another returned to her Connemara home while my dad sought work. With luck, and some help from his younger brother, he was employed on a permanent basis as a driver in the local factory, a job he loved which brought him to the four corners of Ireland. It finally also meant a home of their own. Mam looked after the house but the garden was Dad’s kingdom.
Self -sufficiency was the norm then and our garden like that of our neighbours was overflowing with vegetables and potatoes in the summer. The front garden was always filled with colour from spring to late autumn. When I got engaged I wanted pink roses for my bouquet and my dad sourced three varieties of beautiful scented pink roses that he planted and minded for a year and a half.
When he died two years after my mother, I tried my best but knew I was failing when a neighbour leaned over the wall and mused “your dad kept the garden lovely”, but at least I saved the pink roses now blooming in my own garden.