Oral History Interview - Seamus Kennedy

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Oral History Interview - Seamus Kennedy

Production date

1996

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Audio recording of an oral history recording with Seamus Kennedy. Seamus was born in Donegal, Ireland, and moved to Hackney in 1976.

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SK. I was born on the West Coast of Donegal on a little headland, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. It is a fairly wild rugged area with lots of hills and valleys, and there are some really good beaches nearby, plus lots of rugged headlands. Just when they come into their own it really is in the wintertime when you see the big waves on the Atlantic Coastway onto the rocks, and the spray shooting up, the foam shooting up about 40—50 feet up in the air and it really is quite a spectacular scene.

The houses then in the area are dotted all over the place, and they are not in lines like towns or anything like that. Basically you just find a good solid site on your field, set up a strong foundation and build the house. Although generally the back of the house tends to face towards the South West, because of the trade winds coming from that direction, and they carry a lot of salt water in on the rains. So that means a lot of maintenance and repair for houses, so they try to keep the front of the house looking good. Whereas the back of the house takes more of the Strain and so on.
Houses generally tend to be, although nowadays they use different colours and so on.

For the most part in the early days tend to be old style whitewashed houses. Our house was just like that and I remember as a kid our father used to get us all out, get out the large tins of Snowcem powder, which we use to mix up ourselves and make into a form of what I suppose you might call, the original form of emulsion. And I remember we used to be out as kids. We all used to have to go out and do our bit. We would paint the house we certainly couldn’t let it go more than two years at a time again because of the storms, the weather and the storms salty water which was quite severe and it was a small thatched house, and we used to grow our own corn for thatching, when you put the new thatch on it was a lovely golden colour.


Q. How often did you change the thatch?

SK. I would say about every five years or something like that. I don’t remember that too well because I suppose in my younger years we changed to tiles; like most people did. I suppose around 1970, early 1970s a lot of people did, late sixties early seventies changed I suppose because there was a little bit more money about at that time.

You grew your own thatch more or less, put it on yourself although I suppose thatching was quite a skilled art and there were certain thatches in the locality who were asked to come in and help out. They never got a days pay for doing it or anything like that. Basically they got their funding? their meals and then you give that man a day’s work doing something else. Later on it may be a day in the bog cutting turf, or maybe it would be a day doing something else arraign the house for him, maybe something you could do that he couldn’t do. So it was quite a nice warm roof to have as well.

One of things I noticed after we got the tiles on was how noisy the roof was. Wind, everything you could hear it all, you could hear the rain coming on the roof, whereas before with the thatch you heard none of that. Because there was quite a depth of thatch as well it was quite a deep padding, so it kept the heat in as well and so I suppose that was one of the advantages as well at the time.

Q. I mean you preferred the thatched roofs?

SK. At the time, it was as much a status thing? As well changing because the point came when you were seen as being pretty poor if you only had a thatched roof. When you look back now it is a ridiculous way of looking at things and most people look back now longingly at those, at those days when houses were thatched and the lovely colours and so on. Especially the new golden colour of the roof of the thatch.

Obviously one of the problems with that as well is when storms came. I can remember when I was a kid when Hurricane Debbie came in the early sixties and that did obviously strip a lot of thatch off a lot of houses. Some people did heed the warnings in advance and throw on extra ropes and so on to hold the thatch down and I [?] like that. Whereas others didn’t and got caught out, so it caused a lot of problems for people. That sort of thing.


Q. On the whole it did just a good job.

SK. Oh, just a good a job, yeah yeah. Absolutely, I think most houses were quite small as well, small in the sense that ours had, ours was really only a two bedroom house [?] but the bedrooms tended to be quite large, but then the main living part of the house was where people, where you were eating Your cooking was done there because you had maybe something like a Stanley Range. I mean when I was a child I do remember some houses that still had the open fire and the grate and so on. Which was a bit more of a problem for cooking and they used large pots suspended off, I’m not sure what you would call it.


Q. Frames

SK. Spit, frames yeah off some kind.


Q. I remember them

SK. Yes, so but most houses in my time did have a range of some kind, especially a Stanley range. The make that everybody had. That was used for heating as well as cooking. So that was run on turf which we saved ourselves and very very few people ever had coal. In later years they did have. They might buy a few bags of coal, but they lit the fire with turf and put coal on later for heat because the heat was better.


Q. Everyone had their own piece of bog?

SK. Everyone had their own piece of bog. To go and cut turf, because in my area there is still quite a lot of common land, which has never really been divided out, so people can just go and cut a bog anywhere on this common land. It is any body’s to use so it is sort of brown moorland really, and you need that sort of land to get proper turf. Some of it, there was different types of soil I don’t know what caused it, but in some areas you would get very black turf, which was a bit like coal but
a lot softer obviously; and then in other areas you got
sort of a whiter soil which it was a bit heavier as well.
I don’t know whether it was the vegetation that fell
there or whatever, because the land was originally all
covered with trees. Maybe the vegetation was never in
those parts, maybe it had not solidified as much. I
don’t know. The whiter turf, the heavier turf tended to
light a lot easier it burned faster than the blacker turf
as well. But even within the whiter bags, the deeper you
went the blacker the turf became. The top layer of turf
maybe quite light and white, but the deeper down you went
the blacker it got.


Q. How deep?

SK. Probably went down about, in my area, they tended to go down about five or six feet at the most.


Q. And then what rock?

SK. Well they usually just left it there and just moved on because it took years and years. Once you [?] a bog you just moved the bank back, the width you dug each year would probably be about 3 to 4 foot wide. Then the next year move onto the next piece, so in 20 years you would only go 20 foot along the bog? And because you just had acres and acres of bog area anyway, it you know you never ran out basically. So you never went deeper than that.


Q. But deeper down there was more and more turf.

SK. There was probably more and more turf.


Q. 30 feet, 40 feet?

SK. Yes, there may have been, and one of things that I have been hearing over the last years, and I think when I look back at some of the old abandoned bogs probably true, that this bog which is made up of peat or whatever that it actually grows back again; and that is something which I didn’t know until within maybe the last ten years, that I didn’t know that I’ve learnt that? And again when I do look back at some of the original bogs that we had when we were quite young and we left a wall of the bog wall. The last time we cut it out, it would have been five or six feet, look at it now it would only be 2 or 3 feet now. So it obviously does grow back when you go back and look at it.


Q. What other sort of jobs did you have to do on the farm?

SK. My father was more into cattle than sheep so most of the work we had was about cattle. Saving hay to feed them and then rubbing them in the morning from the time I was about 8 or 9 years of age. We used to have to milk the cows in the morning, we was only really a small farm. Possibly about 25 acres or something like that.

We normally at one time would have had about four milk cows; and we would milk the cows in the morning, myself and my father and my brother perhaps and then we would take them to a field about half a mile up the road, put them in there, leave them there for the day, take them back in the evening and milk them again in the evening. We would leave them in over night. Again most of the time the weather wasn’t brilliant at home, so therefore all our cattle was kept in at night indoors. It wasn’t the sort of climate where you could leave them out, although sometimes in the summer you could leave them out. Certainly if you had nice weather you could leave them out overnight.


Q. Four milk cows, but beef cattle as well?

SK. We had younger, the calves that they would rear we would sell most of those every year. Each animal would probably have one calf per year; and so we would sell those and I can remember one time a local cattle dealer buying 3 really fine big two year old animals from us, well maybe about one and a half to two year old. Well that’s around the age we would sell them; and I can remember my father selling them for around #105, and I don’t know when that would have been, been maybe the mid-sixties or something like that I am not sure. Those three nowadays would probably go for $1500, or more maybe and it is amazing to think back to #35 each or whatever.

But that is what we did, and then sometimes a very good one would come along, and say when one was getting old or something like that, we would keep one on as a milk cow and then maybe sell off the old cows, and again they would go to a butcher or something like that. But we always kept a certain number going all the time with milk.


Q. I remember the cattle after they had their calves taken away, wandering around the fields mooing desperately, it was awful.


SK. I suppose in our area because the family needed the milk the calves were never left with the cows anyway; but what we did, we did feed the calves initially with the mother’s milk, and obviously the mother produced a lot more milk than the calf could drink anyway. The calf was getting the others milk but we would milk the cow by hand and feed the calf out of a dish, or whatever. They would actually meet up but we always avoided the situation where the calf or the cow would suckle the calf, because once that started you couldn’t really take them away again.

So we did it that way, actually I just remember now, just after a calf was born the milk that the mother had the cow had was so strong. I remember we used to boil it sometimes and It was almost as if it would curdle up, but it used not go sour; and I remember it actually was a lovely foodstuff to eat. I remember we would eat it with a spoon and it actually became quite thick, almost quite like, not as thick as porridge, a little bit flakier than that. I remember drinking it, and I remember we all loved that; and that was one of the things we would look forward to after a cow had had a calf. Perhaps, I don’t know maybe there is a scientific explanation for that, but that milk is very good in the initial phase for the calf as well; because it is incredible the speed that they grow up initially, and how strong they get so quickly, and so on.

I remember one of the lovely things was when the calf was being let outside for the first time, you know we would take them out in the spring or summer or whatever. Again because of the facilities, they were quite a little bit blocked up, not quite like the calf pens in the news at the moment, but you know they had spaces much bigger than that as they were growing. But then when you let them out into field they tended to run wild, go mad and so initially we were afraid they would injure themselves seriously or something, so we would tie them on a rope on a tether so they could only run. Put a stake in the ground, so they could only run a large circle. Maybe a diameter of about 20 yards or something like that. Then you moved them around a bit, and when they settled down a little bit you could let them go and let them run all over the place. It was quite nice to see them frolicking and dancing around the field and they are lovely friendly little animals as well, and I remember we had... I can distinctly remember some of my favourite ones we had along the way because they were so nice.


Q. What other work?

SK. The other work, the main work would be the hay in the summertime, sowing hay. At that time we only, most farmers didn’t have a tractor in our area, but there was one or two tractors you would hire them to come along with their mowers, mow down a field of hay. We would start sowing that hay it involved shaking it up, putting it in what we call hand cocks? small mounds that we built
by hand and later, getting quite a few of these together and into what we call train cocks[?] because someone actually got up on it and built it, and someone forked the hay up to them; and I suppose they would be about maybe 15 feet high at the most, no maybe 12 feet at the most. So they were built quite well because they timed? any rain because of the way they were built. Obviously roped down to save from getting blown away; and then eventually they were all gathered together into a shed. Either a shed or a big haystack where the cattle were housed, so it was easy to take the hay into feed them over the winter and so on, and at night when you would take them in.


Q. Few people had tractors, did rest have horses?

SK. A lot used mainly small ponies actually because I remember we had a pony around for pulling in hay sometimes. They were really useful for that, and also my father being a bit of a carpenter built an old cart, so we used to take our cart home on that as well; rather than hire a tractor. So we would take the turf home and build a stack of turf near the house where it was easy access.


Q. Did you have a trap?

SK. No, no, we hadn’t. I can only remember as a child, I can remember [?] or traps around. Most of them were gone by the time I came along, but I can remember one or two old people at home with traps. They enjoyed going around in those, and they were obviously great catches for tourists with photographs and that sort of thing. My father always had a good cart around and that was the only thing we had, and we enjoyed working with the pony.


Q. Your first school. How old?

SK. Well, I would have been about five when I went to my first school, my local primary school. I was very lucky because it was only about 100 yards away, I enjoyed my time there, some people didn’t. Our teachers were quite strict, but I tended to be fairly okay at school so I didn’t really get a lot of hassle from the teachers or anything; but there was very very strict discipline. There was total silence in the classroom as we were working, or whatever, we were working all day long; and unlike schools nowadays there is a totally different atmosphere.


Q. There were state teachers or nuns or priests?

SK. They were state teachers, ours was a lay school. It was still like the governor of the school was still the local parish priest. Well, he was the sole governor, now we have boards of governors. The priest tends still to feature quite strongly in that, he is either the chair or he is on the board of governors; something like that; but at that time he was the sole governor of the school and we…
I suppose when I mention about discipline that was quite strict. I remember we had a male teacher and female teacher, it was the same two teachers’ all the way through all of my time there. It was a little two classroom school, fifty six pupils was the most I ever remember while I was there it varied between 50 and 56. I remember the teacher, for discipline she used the little wooden 12” ruler.

The headmaster, he used to have a sort of almost like a black? stick which he called Buddy and I remember the most torturous thing about it was, sometimes especially if it was one of the first times he ever hit you with Buddy or whatever. You’d get two or three on each hand for something, whatever the discipline, problem was or not learning your lessons or whatever. He’d walk around you saying things like, “Did I ever introduce you to Buddy?” and so on; and that was more painful than actually having it administered. Thankfully I didn’t get it too often, so it looked quite painful some people got quite a share of it.

It was a fairly quiet little primary school, fairly uneventful time really.


Q. What sort of lessons?

SK. Everything was done through Gaelic, except English Language of course. Being a GAELTOCHT area, in fact I spoke fluent Gaelic because our house, like most houses were bi-lingual. There was also of course the little bribe of a grant each year for fluent Gaelic speakers. So obviously your parents made sure you were fluent and your school made sure you were fluent as well.

Obviously, I remember when I was a kid, when I went there initially it was once a year an inspector would come along and test you out on your Gaelic, and he’d talk to you for a few moments about something or other and he would then decide whether you were fluent or not. If you did you got this grant then it was #5 for a year and it later went up to #10, and of course any family that had a big family it was a lovely little grant to get at the time because like I mentioned, about the family, we were quite self-sufficient in a lot of ways. We grew our own vegetables and everything else and so this extra money was actually quite useful and it went a big way, and I suppose it was very important for them to get it at the time.

Some were quite fluent speakers and our lessons at school, everything was done through Gaelic except the English Language of course. It was quite similar when we went onto secondary school, it was very much a GAELTOCHT area as well and everything again was done through Gaelic except for English, French and Latin, which were subjects we did as well at secondary school.


Q. And the teachers at secondary school?

SK. The teachers at secondary school varied, they were quite a mixed bunch. I can remember one or two who had a mean streak in them as well, who loved using discipline, they used their fists and things like that. They used the open palm sometimes, there were a few others who didn’t, and one I remember best is one who didn’t. I think back now, he was an English teacher, in fact he was my English teacher for five years right through, which was quite excellent. So we obviously, he got to know his pupils quite well, and we got to know him.

He was very very good because he wasn’t really into Shakespeare a lot, he did about as much of it as he had to do, which was in the course, the recommended course for examinations and so on, and a lot of that old sort of literature. He did more modern type literature, I know now, I didn’t know then, I know that he was actually quite political, so he wanted us to get a feel of novels which were based on the history of the turn of the century in Ireland, when things changed so much, when a lot of the big things happened about the break with England. The rise of trade unions and things like that in Ireland, and there were some novels he used to do and he did some I9th century English novels as well. He did a nice range of stuff, but he made sure we got our good fair share of Irish stuff which was quite nice.


Q. History at school was that? Did you get a lot of information about the North?

SK. Not really. A lot of our history really. . .we had history from day one, a lot of the early Irish history is really just a collection of legends a lot of it, I’m not too sure how factual it is; but I’m suppose we were taught was history as if it was factual. We actually did European history as well and a sort of general European history, but Irish history I suppose was largely around.

Most of the emphasis was on the 800 year struggle between Ireland and Britain; and we did really get a clear picture that Britain were the Colonists who were colonising Ireland; and that the struggle in Ireland was about fighting for freedom. That we were a totally different race from Britain and that we wanted and needed our own independence. We wanted and needed to run our own country, so I suppose it was from that point of view that history was taught and it came up really I suppose to the Civil war in Ireland in the 20s.

We didn’t really have much history after that. The Easter Rising after 1916 was probably taught because again it was a small batch of people, what people would now call the old I.R.A. The respectable I.R.A. That’s what a lot of people would refer it to, and say the people nowadays have nothing to do with those sort of people; but they all speak the same language basically I think.


Q. The people who say that haven’t been brought up in the Ardoyne or the Bogside?

SK. Oh absolutely not, and they [?] what it’s like to grow up as a Nationalist in Northern Ireland and the sort of repression that happened there.


Q. Did it delve into the civil war and the split?

SK. Oh absolutely, and it gave us a better idea of why. . . in my younger years it seems to be gradually disappearing now. . .but in my younger years there was a big big split and war was a lot of emunity[?] between the people who supported the two main parties Fienma Gael and Fienne Faul, and I realise now they were the two opposing sides during the civil war; and so there is a lot of the old people when it came around, there was a lot of tension around election time.

And I can remember some of the local smart alecs getting us as kids going out shouting at people from the opposite side “up De Valera” or “up Costello” or whatever. They were the two big names in my time from childhood. So these smart alecs used to get you shouting; and some people used to get really annoyed about this, and sometimes we risked getting a slap for it, and so on. We obviously didn’t realise what we were doing, and I can remember a lot of the messages that were painted on the roads at night and so on. You know about the two main parties, so there was still quite a lot of bitterness anyway on from there, and I suppose our history of the civil war did explain that to us to some extent why that was, and why the split was.

It was a very very bloody time and a very bitter time; even where families were split down the middle, whether they were pro-treaty or anti-treaty. Obviously the treaty was forced on Ireland by Lloyd George, with threat of war within three days if they wouldn’t sign it. So basically they signed it with a gun at their head, and I think that was made quite clear to us as well that that was the situation; and I suppose the only other want of significance that was mentioned in the history books, or in our history the way history was taught at school, was when Ireland declared the 26 countries of the south declared themselves Republic, and they were no longer subject to the crown and set up a presidency and so on.

That was the only other, when I look back now that single event was done a bit in isolation. There seemed to be this big break from the 20’s to 1949. You know where we didn’t know what happened in between, so I think that was mainly it as far as history.


Q. The strike?

SK. At secondary school, I suppose a bit like primary school, discipline was quite strong and we had a priest who was the president at the time I was there. He was an absolute stickler for discipline, it was just total dictatorship to be honest. He just ruled people with fear, that was basically how he kept order in the place.

Fortunately there was another priest who was the exact opposite, he treated us as teenagers who were growing up and he did speak to us a lot about the world we were growing up into; and he had so much respect, a lot more respect than the one who was the strict disciplinarian.

He was feared while he was there but basically everybody hated his guts; and we used to actually call him the bull. If he was around anywhere no one needed to say anything, someone would just stamp their foot once or twice and everybody knew he was there. That was the signal for everyone to be on best behaviour because he loved using his belt. I often got belted by him for ridiculous things, totally ridiculous. Like playing football in our recreation hall during a free class when we should have been studying. That sort of thing, like going upstairs during the daytime, we weren’t allowed upstairs.

It was a boarding school we weren’t allowed upstairs someone told me. I went off to play handball or something, in the morning I did up my bed quickly, went off to the handball alley to have a game of handball before class had started; and then someone told me when I got into class someone had dumped my bed out on the floor. So I sneaked upstairs during a tea break, he happened to be passing somewhere he spotted the swinging [?] he spotted the [?] swinging. So he came in to see what was going on, found me doing up my bed and demanded to know what I was doing upstairs.

He asked me had I permission to be upstairs and I said but I had been told my bed had been dumped out so I came up to fix it. He says “That is not what I asked you, I said did you have permission to be upstairs” So I said “No.” So he just pulled the belt out of his pocket and he used to make us bend over a chair and he would belt you around the rear end. He would allow enough for the belt to wrap around the right side of your leg so it would snap on the end of your leg, so that you’re all “x”s black and blue up the side of your leg.

So he really was cruel, so on my particular year there was a couple of quite revolutionary blokes and so they decided, certainly when they got to the final year, they were the big lads now, when they were in the final year. So they decided this bloke had to be tackled before they leave, so the issue happened over a cancelled disco, there was a D.J travelling locally with a disco, and our prefects went and asked him could we have a disco because there was a convent half a mile up the road, and we got the girls from the convent to go and ask the reverend mother could we have this disco?

So initially he agreed to the disco. Himself and reverend mother had their chit chat and agreed to the disco, so then he cancelled it without notice, a couple of weeks later before it was due to happen; because of recent bad behaviour he said, so we decided this enough now, this is as much as we are taking. So we decided to go on strike, we sat in the classroom and refused to have any more classes that day. We refused to go to meals we refused to go to study, for the study periods and so on.

We demanded to see him, he refused to come and see us and as it turned out the priest that we respected was away that day; and we were a bit worried because we didn’t know how to handle this, because we had never been in such a conflict situation before. A total outright challenge with neither side moving, so there was another priest there as well, who was a dean, a quite a likeable sort of chap. He was sort of running up and down between the two of us and nobody giving an inch.

Basically all we were getting back was orders, orders to go back to class and so on. So in the end we had missed one tea break, the food wasn’t very good anyway at secondary school, we’d missed one tea break. We got some of the day students to go up the village to get crisps and biscuits and things like that because we were quite hungry. For the [?] we had it was one of the few things we could have done to keep going, so then we were supposed to be out playing football and it really frightened him that we didn’t even take our leisure time. He saw that we were really determined so we sat on there.

So anyway eventually we sent a message to him that we would meet him half way. That we would meet him in a classroom halfway, and so it was interesting that a few teachers took our side, they actually gave us some advice and you know what to do and what not to do; because they obviously didn’t like him either, basically he was their boss as president of the school and they didn’t like him either, and it obviously came out there; and, but anyway we met him halfway and he came in very strong? We gathered in this classroom [?] was halfway between when we were, and his room.

So we met in this classroom, he came in and he said “I want to know while you weren’t at class this afternoon, and I want to know why you didn’t come to your tea. Why you didn’t take your breaks, and why you are not now in the study hall doing your studies.” So, one of our appointed spokesman said, “Because we are protesting at the cancellation of the disco without any warning whatever. We felt that your behaviour was unreasonable.” He says, “You have no right to protest. You have no rights whatsoever. Your parents are paying expensive money to have you here” and so on.

So it just developed into a shouting match, and it got nowhere; and he couldn’t handle it so he just marched out and so of course we thought oh my god, supper’s coming up in one hour or so, you know we were starving at this stage but we didn’t really want to give way. Supper was at half seven at night and the next bite we would get would be at 8 o’clock in the morning. We really were hungry and at the same time some people wanted to give in and others didn’t; and a few people were trying to get them into shape. So then about 10 of us went to one person’s room so that to have a chat about what our next move would be, again, these were new modern rooms which only a small number of people had and the intention was to extend it to the whole school; and people studied in them too, it was their study room and bedroom too. So it was a good facility.

So we were in one of these rooms and he used to wander around the corridors listening and if he heard any noise he would be in like a shot; and I remember he had the loudest chink? I’ve ever heard, sometimes you’d freeze when you heard this chink? Behind you, you know, because he had that much fear, he had that much fear engendered into us with this chink? If you were caught, you had to go off to one of, you lost your room off to one of the dormitories and one of the large dormitories and you also had to study in study hall along with all the rest of the school. So it was actually a nice privilege to have one of these rooms, so there was supposed to be total silence while you were studying; and if he heard any noise he would be in like a shot, and he had a great knack of finding people who were talking.

But I remember he came along and there were 10 of us in this room planning what our next move should be; and the next thing the door bursts open and he walks in and he said, “That’s enough of this nonsense. Get back to your rooms” and so on. So we decided no, we are not giving in, and all ten of us just stood and looked at him, nobody moved and nobody said anything; and he panicked and he ran out of the room and he just didn’t know how to control this. This was the first time in his life he had ever been challenged in a really confrontational situation.

And so when he was half way up he thought “Oh my god who was in the room?” and he came away back into the room again and asked for a pen and a bit of paper, and he wrote all the names down and he actually went to the Bishop and asked if he could expel these ten people from the school; and this was six months before our leaving so it would have been terrible to get another school at that stage you know; and it would have been total disruption for us.

But the Bishop said no, no you don’t do that, but you can warn them you know, and if there is any more undiscipline you can throw them out or whatever, but in the meantime this priest, the good one, came back and he heard about the situation, so he went and he told him that he did make a mistake and he should have not have cancelled it without a warning. He said, I’ll settle the whole thing now, but you’ve got to show them some respect. If you leave it to me I’ll arrange something else and I’ll make sure that they don’t go on strike again for the last six months that they are here.” And so anyway he came along and told us, and he did tell us that your man was frightened; and for a couple of years he was frightened of that happening, and he did not know how to handle it when it did happen.


Q. Good?

SK. Yes, and the whole ethos of the school changed and it became a much more democratic school after that. So that was our first for all of us that was our first experience of people power. You know, which was quite good. That was the most memorable way, was sort of overthrowing the dictator of my five years at school; and I was actually quite proud to be one of the ten people who stood in that room and defied him, you know when he thought he had us in the end; and the fact that he did have to give way in the end.

And I remember when we did have our dance with the convent girls in the end. Boy did we enjoy it, especially when he peeped his head in once or twice everybody danced like crazy. So it was a great feeling, a brilliant feeling.


Q. You didn’t come to England first to get a job?

SK. I did little bits and pieces mainly around the farm at home and that. I did odd jobs for people and that around. Jobs in Ireland were really, really difficult to come by. Anything worthwhile, because the only way really around our area was if you could get into the local tweed factories or immediately beside me there was a vegetable processing plot, which was only really seasonal work but at that time I suppose it was gradually changing over to a fish processing plant; because again the fishing industry was quite good around our area. Again that was hard work. Cold, hard work.


Q. Labouring?

SK. Labouring, yes basically you’re a bit of a slave really, for quite small wages you had to work very hard.


Q. Was it a corporation, an Irish corporation?

SK. The vegetable processing factory besides us that was a co-operative, because we actually had a parish priest in our area who became quite renowned. His name was Father McDyer, he was often accused of being a communist, in fact one of things he did get was a lot of the local farmers to hand over the land to the Co-op, so that the Co-operative would decide what to grow on everybodys land, and the owners of land. What they did was sign it over on a long term lease. They didn’t sell the land to the Co-operative, then they themselves were employed to work with the vegetables on the land. Along with others from the Co-op, some of the other employers from the Co-op. It worked o.k in as far as some people did o.k out of it.

The only problem was the land in my area was not very good and to run a factory it needed a lot more vegetables than the area could produce. So they were taking vegetables from all over the place, sometimes from maybe up to 200 miles away, so the overheads of farming vegetables there, processing them and taking them back to Dublin or somewhere to where the markets were. The overheads were quite expensive and really the Co-operative only survived with…while the vegetable processing plant had difficulty surviving there was other small cottage industries. He got more weaving going, he got little touristy type things going in the area and he got other things, some things didn’t last very well, but he did get a lot of things going. People doing things for themselves and working together, which is something they never really did before and he really got a great spirit going in the area.

The vegetable processing plant, gradually over a number of years they converted parts of it over and the fish processing became quite a good money spinner for then and because of that eventually the vegetables were cut out. The whole plant was eventually converted to fish, and it is doing really well now since then, and it is going now almost 30 years. It is doing well and a lot of new houses were built on the strength of that fish processing plant. Most of the local people from where I came from work there. At the height of the fishing season you can get up to 150 people working in it which is really good in a country area.

I never liked the idea of working in it because it really was hard cold work. It was really hard graft. I always wanted to do something where I maybe would have to use my brain a little bit more. So I felt in the end there was nothing really there for me in the area, because to be perfectly honest you needed a bit of pull to get a decent job.

I can remember Jimmy 0 Dee, the Irish comedian, one time said the HARP was the National symbol because in Ireland it was all about pulling strings; and that was very much the case. Anyway that’s why I decided to come to London.


Q. That was when you thought about leaving home?

SK. About leaving home?


Q. Coming to England?

SK. Yes, coming to England and as well as that I was always a little bit nosey, I wanted to see more of the world. Geography was my favourite subject at school, you know I loved seeing all this and learning more of these other countries and so on. I really wanted to see a bit more of the world, so I decided eventually after a while, I decided you know I had to come to London because you know
I thought London was the centre of the world, and it would be a good base to start from; especially when you come from N.W. coast of Ireland, over to the Comer[?] Towards Ireland Eiwge[?] was a long way off so London was much more central, and I know it would be easier to get from there. So I decided to come to London.


Q. How did people feel about you coming?

SK. People are generally sorry to see you going, but they accept that as a fact of life because I had two uncles before, one who came to London. I knew lots and lots of people in London from my own area.


Q. So you could hitch up with them when you came over?

SK. Hitch up with them. I stayed with my uncle initially which was quite good, when I came over until you get sorted out with a job and get digs sorted out with a job and get digs sorted out, that sort of thing. That was really good. I think most Irish people who came over helped one another out in that way. There was relatives and friends or neighbours or somebody there that you could come to. That was quite useful and because it is difficult starting up I wouldn’t like to have to do it again; although I don’t remember it at the time as being particularly traumatic.

I can remember initially being a little worried about no good job coming, because I felt that the education I had in Ireland wasn’t really valued here, and I think that, I knew the worth of the education that I had and I really felt it wasn’t being valued because I registered with lots of employment agencies.

Some of them would offer you things like kitchen porters and that, and I thought what I did five years at secondary school just to be a kitchen porter? You know, and so on. I felt that at the time maybe it is because you have to prove yourself because you are not afraid to do a day’s work, whatever. When I look back afterwards and I think now that maybe it was a combination of not valuing, maybe not understanding or valuing the education that I had. As well as the fact that they got their commission so they had to get you into some sort of job whatever it was.


Q. Did you have any pre-conceptions of this country?

SK. I suppose the only pre-conception I had was that there was money to be made in London; and London seemed to be a place where anything goes. It was totally different from the rigid life style in Ireland where everybody, all your neighbours know everything you did everyday.

Whereas you understood from people coming back from London that nobody cares what you do in London as long as you don’t do anything, commit serious crimes or whatever you’d just get by. People mind their own business and so on.

I think I like that a bit as well, I like the idea of coming to that sort of environment. I suppose I wanted to get away from the sort of small rural, sort of everybody knows everybody else, sort of rural environment.


Q. The other side of the coin of course is the isolation?

SK. Yes


Q. That must of hit you at the time?

SK. That did hit me more, so early on, until I got to know more people and. . .you suddenly realise when you come to a place like this you think, oh I’ll just pop round and see all the neighbours. Just like you would do at home and suddenly you realise that they are all too busy, they are working very hard and you know they’ve all changed and they are not even like what they are when they come home on holidays. They relax, they have a good time and they become the same old neighbours that they were, and suddenly you see a different side to them in London, where it is all go, and rush, rush and make money and get on.

I’ve got to buy a house, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. So you saw a different side to life as well, and one of things was the pace of life, that I couldn’t believe it when I came past. You know everybody was rushing, rushing, rushing around.


Q. What was the first thing that struck you about London? How did you come by? Train?

SK. I came by train and boat.


Q. So you arrived at Euston?

SK. I arrived at Euston station. I couldn’t believe how ugly it was when I arrived; because I suppose we had images of London, things like we’d seen pictures of Buckingham Palace. We’d seen Trafalgar Square and we’d seen Piccadilly Circus and the bright lights and Big Ben, the House of Commons. They are the sort of images you had in London, you don’t have images of ugly little streets and blocks of flats and tower blocks. I’d never seen a tower block in my life until I came to London; and probably the biggest thing I’d ever seen was sort of four or five floors in Dublin; and I’d been to Dublin a few times, maybe a dozen times in my life I’d been to Dublin. So Dublin with a population of half million was the biggest city I’d ever seen; and it seemed massive to me until I came to London.

But actually I was quite anxious to see lots of London and I did in the first six months, or so, I saw virtually every tourist site there was to see in London, and I saw more of it then than I did since, I think. The only time I ever visit those places now is when I’m showing people from home around, family, friends and that come now and again and some people there are certain things they want to see, so you bring them to see all the sites of London.


Q. You didn’t live in Hackney first did you?

SK. No, I stayed . . .my uncle was living in Harrow so I stayed there. Then my first job was a night security guard in a little mall off Piccadilly. A very posh one. I can’t remember the name of it.. .
Burlington Arcade. Very nice, very posh, but I hated the job. I only stayed in it, I think I stayed in it about a month or something like that.

I then got a job with Kalli Info the photo copiers at least it was a semi—clerical job, so at least
I did have to use my brain and it involved a certain amount of telephone work, discussing things with people and so I was quite happy with that because I stayed with them for two years. I think it was; and they were quite good to me as well because they allowed me, one of the points was that I wanted to see the world, so I used to work about eight or nine months in the year and just give up digs, jobs everything and just go off with rucksack and tent and maybe along with one of maybe two friends and go off hitching around Europe or whatever; and Kalli infotech were very good because the first summer I left them they actually gave me my job back when I came back in 3 months, which was quite good; and I did sort of bits and pieces like that for a few years and then I decided in the end well it is time to do something more permanent.

So then I decided I would opt for teaching, or no…in between times I did a painting and decorating course and so I did that and I did painting and decorating for a couple of years. While I enjoyed it I still felt I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that, so I then got into an access course for teacher training and that I did enjoy but the grants weren’t very good so to subsidise my grant I went back doing a bit of painting and decorating, and the result was I ran out of time with my studies. I spent too much time painting, and not enough time studying, so I messed that up a bit and went back to painting and decorating again, until eventually I heard about the victim support unit job.

I heard about that when I was painting for somebody who knew one of the people who was advertising the job, so he thought I might be suitable for that sort of job, so I got the details, applied for it and got the job.


Q. How long have you been working there?

SK. I’ve done that now for nine years. Nine years this week, in fact I’m in the job I really like that because there is a fabulous variety of things to do in it, and the greatest thing of all I suppose is finding people with problems and leaving them a little bit better than they were when you met them. So you get quite a buzz out of that. It is very fulfilling in that way and you also feel that you are at the hub of things at the moment with all the developments going on in Hackney at the moment.

I’m involved more with the safer cities group, through my role as a victim support person; because obviously they want the voice of the victims of crime to be taken into consideration. There is another new committee about crime and safety generally on estates; and so on. So I’m involved with that as well, along with crime prevention panels and other things. So one minute you can be counselling a victim of crime on the phone, another minute you can be supporting a volunteer who is dealing with a difficult problem in their work with victims. Next minute, you can be giving crime, basic crime prevention advice. You can be arranging maybe a training course, you are actually training the volunteers to get out and do the work and so on. So that there is an unbelievable variety of things in the job.


Q. So how did you end up in Hackney?

SK. I ended up in Hackney because I heard that there was flats going in Hackney. The old G.L.C. [Greater London Council] I heard there were 200 flats going first come first served, so I was in the queuing at six o’clock in the morning. A friend of mine actually told me he was in the queue from twelve o’clock the night before. There was people sleeping out in sleeping bags on the pavement outside the council office from the night before; and like I said he was in the queue from twelve o’clock the night before and there was ninety people ahead of him in the queue, and I got there at six o’clock in the morning and there was about 140 people ahead of me.

So we got interviewed and at the time I was sharing a flat with a girlfriend in a private flat, and it was quite expensive. It doesn’t seem expensive now, but it was expensive at the time; because that was 1960, it was #35 a week then for the flat, and it wasn’t a proper flat it was a flat within a flat, within a large flat, and I can remember when I got the Hackney one the G.L.C flat, the rent was suddenly #11 something. So that puts it into perspective. It was a third of what I was paying in the private sector if you like; and so that is how I ended up in Hackney.

I actually quite like Hackney because I met some fabulous people in Hackney. The amazing thing was, one of the things that struck me was the perspectives that some people have of other areas in London; because I was living in Kilburn when at the time I moved to Hackney and in Kilburn I was told, “Don’t move to Hackney or you’ll get murdered over there.” When I got to Hackney when I said I came from Kilburn, people said, “You were lucky to get out of there alive.”


Q. What are your main impressions of Hackney?

SK. Over the years it’s been a grey dull, physically a grey, dull place, very run down place. A lot of poverty and I’ve learned a lot of that through my work. It is annoying the amount of poverty that is in Hackney. I think the council, I know the council have had their problems and haven’t been very efficient; and I know that through my work over the last nine years; but they are coming forward in leaps and bounds, they really are.

I can see by big changes over the last nine years; because I deal sometimes with people who become victims of crime who are extremely vulnerable. Nine years ago it made no difference, you could plead from morning to night on their behalf; from housing departments; whatever and basically you would get the brush off with, Oh, we’ve got thousands of those sort of problems.” But nowadays I think you will get a much more sympathetic hearing and you will actually get somewhere, you will get help.

I think a lot of the services, it is not just the council, it’s the D.S.S. [Department of Social Security] it is all sorts of other things, a lot of them are improving; they are becoming a lot more user friendly. I think, I’m fairly optimistic about the way things are going in Hackney.


Q. Would you stay here?

SK. Ideally I would go back to Ireland if I had a good job, I’d go back tomorrow morning, if I had a good job. Much as I love the job I am in I would go back tomorrow morning, but I’ve got to be realistic and say it’s not what’s going to happen. So for the moment I am here, I don’t know if I will stay in Hackney for the rest of my life, I don’t think I will. I don’t even know how long I’ll stay in the job I’m in. I’ll certainly stay a few more years and then I’ll think about something else perhaps; but at the moment I’m still enjoying it.

There’s been times when I didn’t, when problems, lots of problems and there seemed to be little help from anywhere, and I did feel weighed down from time to time but at the moment things are going fairly well. So I’m quite happy.


Q. So you say you’d go back tomorrow, so what is it that you really miss? Put your finger on what you really miss?

SK. I think probably the thing I miss most is the sort of community spirit at home; and I think in the time, I actually came here, came to Britain, in November ‘76, so I’m not far off twenty years being here, and I cannot believe the way things have developed at home in that time.

I think at that time London had a lot more going for it than say Donegal had, I would say now apart from jobs, Donegal is a much better place in every other respect; because they’ve got all the mod cons, they’ve got everything that they’ve got here. The lifestyle there is so much better, much much better community spirit. People are still very much in touch with one another. I suppose it is because it is a much more settled community in some sense, when I go home I know everybody, I know everybody at home.

At Christmas for example, just gone, I went home and the very night I went home I went to a dinner dance, and I’d say possibly anything up to a hundred people came and shook hands with me, welcomed me home for Christmas. That is unbelievable when you go home to that sort of thing; and it is not just a formality, a lot of people come and have a laugh, a laugh and a joke with you and so on. They genuinely mean that you are welcome home and so on.

I know that people always, they will always tell me that they love seeing people coming home. That is when a lot of them go out to the pubs and that at home as well, when people go away during the quiet time during the year the pubs are a bit deserted at home. When people are at home in the summer, when lots of people, when locals come home in the summer, come home at Christmas that sort of thing, they will all come out and meet them. There is always a very good atmosphere and I miss that quite a lot.

And I think that just by the very nature of country area, and a city you will never have the same thing in two places; I mean you will have a smaller community in a city, and much smaller community of close friends, but at home you will have a very large group of close friends.


Q. Is there something of London that you could never get there, that you feel attached to here?

SK. Employment is the one and only thing, the one and only thing I think that I think probably, like most Irish people, I would say that if I don’t go back now, I’d definitely go back to retire; because I think the countryside in Ireland is still a much healthier place for old people anyway.

There’s never that fear of crime in the country area that I come from, crime in the sense of domestic burglaries and street robberies and that it simply doesn’t exist. It just doesn’t happen. That’s one of the things that’s so good about it, so there isn’t that fear of crime that people have in London all the time; and I would imagine, I know again from my own work that certainly old people, there is a very high level of fear amongst old people. Maybe because they cannot do much about it if someone decides to knock them over and rob them or whatever, there is very little they can do, they don’t have the physical strength to resist it very much.

Not that young people have very often either, because in some of the situations that I have dealt with; but old people feel it a little bit more; and I don’t think I would like to live in that sort of atmosphere, and I think I would certainly go back to retire anyway, if I don’t go back before that.

But employment is the one bad thing. Hopefully now with peace coming in Northern Ireland, our part of the country might just develop a bit more because people tend to avoid Donegal to an extent as well because of the way that the border was drawn up. Donegal’s almost cut off from the rest of the South of Ireland, the rest of the republic so it does tend to be a bit isolated in that sense; because people even down the Southern tip of Ireland, who don’t know much about what is happening up there then, don’t know that Donegal is not part of the North; and they will sometimes ask people like me, “Is there much fighting where you come from?” that sort of thing. It shows their ignorance of the situation up there, I think Donegal also tends to get tarred with the same brush. So it is very difficult to get outsiders to come and invest. Get industry in there, get jobs in there.

So perhaps maybe with peace, if peace develops now in Ireland; maybe Donegal will benefit from that as well. Donegal tends to think it will at the moment, they are very optimistic about it and so they are hoping it will improve.

Object number

2016.48

On display?

No

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