There is a never-ending treasure trove of memoirs coming out of Ireland and J.A.O’Brien’s Against the Wind is another fine example.
The author was born Seamus O’Brien in Dublin in May 1936. He was the first-born and first son. His family lived with six other families in a tenement building at No. 10 Stamer Street. One of his first memories is that of all the people living in his building sheltering from a nearby bombing raid — ‘the emergency’ as the Irish referred to the war.
“It was the end of May 1941.I went to sleep remembering that tomorrow was my birthday. I would be five and I would be allowed to go to school.”
Seamus moved to Australia in 1968, after much time working in England, because he found that life in the stifling social and cultural conditions of Ireland was hard to tolerate. But “one can never be ex-Irish”, he remarks.
Seamus’ parents ( Da and Ma) were hard-working decent folk. Though they were never staunchly religious they were firmly supportive of an independent Ireland. The red of the British flag was the blood-red of Imperialism- and not just in Ireland but in Africa, India and many parts of the world.
But, the only catch was that to support their families, many men had to work ” in the land of the enemy” – good old England. And most of the ordinary British folk believed they were superior to the Irish, the West Indians, Indians, and Pakistanis who were being invited into Britain as a source of much-needed manpower.
Seamus entertains us with tales of his childhood, the cruel teachers, the tough times, the friends, girlfriends and other antics.
At 15, he was apprenticed to his Da as a bricklayer as was his dad and his dad before him and his dad before that. ” The story goes that once when Da was applying for a job, the wages clerk who was taking his details asked, ‘ Nationality?’ ‘Bricklayer,’ my father answered. The reply contained his view of himself and also the recognition of the universal bond that existed between those who used strength and skill to build in every corner of the world. By its very nature, building is an itinerant industry in every country. Men must move on each time a project is completed. Often they must move from their home town or home country to find work. Men like Da knew their trade was their nationality.”
In March 1953, Seamus and his Da moved to England (Yorkshire) for work. It was the same year as the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth. “The pathos and the poignancy of the occasion upset Ma who had come to see me off. Her man back and forward to England all her married life and now the same, heart-wrenching routine was about to begin for her with me, her eldest son.”
Seamus also talks about his trade unionism and his time with Sinn Fein and as a supporter of the IRA – ” I am neither proud, nor ashamed of my connection. It was who I was at the time and what the IRA was then. It was an individual commitment. I was prepared to struggle for me, for the things that I wanted and the type of society that I wanted for my country.”
Ah, yes, the Irish sure do have a way with word s – a very entertaining, humorous, intelligent, loving and proud memoir. More literary gold from the “Emerald Isle”.
Wendy O’Hanlon, Acres Australia.