Extracts from Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner
James O’Brien on his first visit to England (Yorkshire)…
This was a new experience for me. I had grown up thinking that all English people were la-di-dah types that spoke with BBC accents and said things like, ‘I say, old chap,’ and ‘Jolly good show,’ every time they opened their mouths. And here I was in a household and community that were avowedly the opposite in outlook and conviction.
On leaving Ireland for England to seek work…
We emigrants used to joke, ‘I’m not going away. Just across to Birmingham.’ Or we could apply it to Manchester or Coventry, or to any of the English cities with a history of large Irish settlements. Some would say, ‘Going across the pond’ while those of a more ironic bent would declare, ‘I’m off to the mainland.’ And for all of us, even those that hoped for a United Ireland, we knew we were more welcome in Birmingham than in Belfast.
On emigrating to Australia
I knew this was not like taking the boat across the ‘pond’ to England. This was a big move with just one week’s pay in my wallet. But I would not be the first or the last man or woman to leave Ireland in such circumstances (even as I write they are leaving in their thousands again). And this time there is no ‘cruel England’ to blame.
My advice to them all is to remember no matter where you finish up, as Da used to say, ‘As long as you are on your feet and stay above the clay, you are winning.’
On being Irish….
During one tutorial session, the female tutor asked me was I ‘Irish or ex-Irish?’
‘One can never be ex-Irish,’ I replied. ‘Especially somebody with a brogue like mine.’ A remark that drew a laugh from the class. I have never felt any need to try to be other than Irish. In many ways being Irish or English or anything else is how we think of ourselves.
As Da would often say ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland.’ Never one to be pusillanimous himself; I hope I have inherited his outlook.
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