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Posted on: Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Often, when I talked about moving abroad, people would say, 'Oo, aren't you brave?'

I feel like saying - well, no, not really.

I feel like saying my dad moved to London from Ireland when he was sixteen, you know. All he'd ever known were fields and bicycles and priests and Sunday mass and confession and wedding receptions with jelly and custard and Granddad singing Galway Bay. 

Suddenly he was in a city of millions and money. 

He'd gone off to a place of temptation, my grandmother said. Nothing but smog and sin in that auld town, she sniffed. 

It was the 1960s. Boarding houses still displayed signs in the windows: 'No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.' The Rolling Stones were singing Satisfaction, but he preferred dance halls and Jim Reeves (still does). He didn't have a certificate to his name - he can't even remember if he sat the Junior Cert. He could ride a bicycle and cut turf. He had nothing but his wits and his hands and a smile. 

And, you know, a drink or two. To help you hold onto the smile. 


My mum married my dad at eighteen and a half. Eighteen's an age where half years are still appropriate,  I think.

That's brave, for a start. 

I look at the photos taken on her wedding morning. She smiles stiffly against the backdrop of the pea-green kitchen. The gas cooker. I try to read the look in her eyes. She looks like a little girl. She was. 

She grew up all over - in London, in the West of Ireland, in Leicester, back to London again. She remembers starting primary school after primary school without ever cementing the basics. 

We've done that already, we've moved on. You'll have to catch up. 

Granddad was a rambler and a gambler, as the song goes. He had a pub, a landline and a sister who covered for him. A half-brother emerged in Wales - red-eyed, liked a beer - in Mum's 50s. 

Grandma struggled with her nerves and had a doctor who was fond of writing prescriptions. 

Noel, a brother, was left in a boarding school in Ireland on a scholarship for months. Paul got onto a degree course but Granddad wouldn't fill out the income assessment form. They ended up in a council maisonette in Camden Town. 

Maybe getting married wasn't just being brave, or being in love. Maybe it was a way out. 

She had two unfaltering obsessions: to own her own house, and for her children to go to University. 

She did it. 


I've moved to Brussels with a clutch of qualifications and certificates. I have enough money to pay for French lessons. I go running and eat sushi and I have a job that keeps my hands soft. That's not brave at all. 


We've been doing some work on Slam Poetry in school at the minute. You should really watch this video. And I defy you not to think about where you come from and how lucky you are. 


  1. Wonderful thought provoking posts like this is what makes reading blogs so interesting.

  2. My god, this post is good.

  3. Wow, I just watched that documentary and my blood ran cold when the first girl spoke about her Dad suggesting putting her brother in the middle seat...

    I didn't know what slam poetry was before today.


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