HomeStoriesFrom the Farewell State to the Welfare State

From the Farewell State to the Welfare State

By Maurice O'Neill

Dublin-born and bred, and having had several dead-end jobs by the age of 21, I made up my mind in 1960 that I would emigrate and, with no real qualifications, I felt  the whole world was out there for me, with the US and Australia at the top of my list. My English-born mother was against me leaving Ireland so I reckoned that going to England might be a compromise and that later I might go to Australia or the US. I saved some money and went on the annual fortnight camp with FCA (Army Reserve) which meant I'd qualify for a £15 gratuity. I told my mother I had quit my job and when I returned from camp I would emigrate to England – and that she had two weeks to get used to the idea.

When I returned I booked a ticket from the North Wall to Liverpool, and then the train on to London. The night boat in those days was for cargo and passengers, and there was a good mixture of immigrants going to various parts of the UK. I remember chatting to two brothers from the west of Ireland who were going to Scotland for potato-picking and it was their first time away from home. The boat ticket included a bunk bed for the night. These beds were quite small with a single top and bottom bunk, and the only privacy was a loose curtain draped down from the ceiling which covered the number of the bunk. Later, while trying to locate my bed, I opened a curtain and came across the two brothers squeezed into each end of one bunk. They had booked two, but as the beds weren't together, they didn't chance being separated.

Upon arriving in London, I made for one of the two youth hostels where I could stay for a maximum of four nights and, by 'manipulation' of the stamp card, I was able to move between the two hostels for about two weeks. During that period I bumped into a Northern Irish chap who was staying in a permanent hostel for civil servants and, again by 'manipulation', I was able to move into the hostel and later, after getting a job, I moved into a bedsit in Pimlico. 

Now over 50 years later, do I regret my decision in emigrating? I can answer that with 'No'. Having been married for over 40 years to an English woman, not home-grown, but second generation, and with a grown-up family of three, I feel I've been very lucky. 

(And I got to work in New York for a few years but have not yet made it to Australia.)