An anthology of Irish working class voices
Edited by Paul McVeigh
I love hearing my mams stories. Born in inner city dublin in 1936 her family soon moved lock stock and barrel to the countryside that was Whitehall. My mam tells tales of her mother living in a Henrietta Street tenement, a story of a British soldier being kind in 1916 while her mother was looking for sweets on Parnell Street. She talks of visits to relatives when they were kids in pigtails. “Don’t accept any food” they were told, “We don’t want the family thinking we are poor”. Or on her wedding day on st Stephen’s day, the day after Christmas. The priest wanted her to leave through the back door as the conveyor belt of weddings was on for the day. “No thanks Father”, said her Dad. “She will leave the way she came in”. Their wedding reception was held in her house, 2 sittings for dinner which was laid out in one of the bedrooms with Jelly setting in the bath.
My Dad grew up in Ballybough, swimming in the Tolka and helping out in st annes with horses. His jobs were ones of tough labour, a coal man, a milkman, a crane driver and finishing as an oil tanker driver. He was always grateful for his pay packet. As we drove around the country on our holidays or Sunday afternoons he would point to landmarks (such as the statue in Dollymount) and talk about the work he put into digging foundations. “I put that there” he would exclaim pointing at various landmarks.
I remember we had a tree in our back garden. It was shadowing the kitchen and my parents felt it needed to come down. My dad tied a rope around the tree and pulled it down with his bare hands. I’m not messing. Bare hands.
It was growing up in Donnycarney that made me aware of class. My Dad was proud to be working class. His was a life of Labour, a strong trade unionist and a believer in helping his neighbour. Our hall door was never locked as kids. Everyone was welcome. We travelled to the at Patrick’s day parade every year. Looking forward to seeing what float Chubb alarm had prepared or how cold the marching bands would be. We planted ourself on O’Connell street and waited for hours. My real introduction to class was when my dad wouldn’t let us go into McDonald’s to use the toilet one year. Never ever cross a picket line he told us. No matter what. I just needed to see but I’d have to wait.
I was nearing the end of secondary school when talk of careers reared it’s head. What about college I meekly said. “Don’t be bothering with that. Get out and earn”. When I eventually got my permanent pensionable job in a time when so many were fleeing the country my parents were proud as punch. I was full into punk rock at this stage and so many people I knew were going to college or taking a year out. I couldn’t grasp how they could afford it and despite being interested in the anarchist expressions of freedom I really felt that this was a preserve of the rich. They could afford to drop out.
And so my Mam finished school at 14 and got a job in Cadbury’s, an apprentice confectioner. We grew up hearing the stories of the factory floor and the nights dancing, walking home and going to work the next day. That all stopped when she got married. Life took a different turn and she never questioned it.
All that to me is working class in an era where the country was finding its feet and thankfully then a realisation that all people are equal. That is still meandering slowly along and this book reflects that world and shows that despite the veneer of equality those who are born poorer invariably stay poorer and these writers become the exception (and inspiration).