Emigrant Reflections, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

Many stories are written about emigration and their effects on the local community.

Mostly they are sad tales of hardship, poverty and journeys into the unknown. Young people of to-day's Ireland do not understand how hard it was to exist back in the 1950's and 1960's. After they finished National School, most boys and girls had to go to the United States or Britain to find work. Those lucky enough to have Secondary or Vocational education might be able to find work in Ireland, otherwise they too would have to emigrate.

All the doors open to the youth of to-day, were not open then. It was very difficult for the young but alas it was a very sad and harrowing experience for their parents.

One such parents were Jack and Mary Duffy (nee Halligan) from Madogue near Charlestown. The following is a short account of two members of their family, namely Margaret and Paddy.

Margaret emigrated in 1962 and studied very hard in America. She graduated Magna cum laude from Fordham University with a BS in accounting. She joined Arthur Andersen in 1972, and was admitted to the partnership in 1981. Arthur Anderson is one of the leading providers of accounting services. She was the first female audit partner of that firm. The company employs more than sixty-two thousand people in seventy-two countries, including Ireland.

Margaret was responsible for audit and business advisory services to major Multi-national clients in numerous industries, ranging from consumer products to advertising. She is married to Eugene Gaughan and was a member of the Taoiseach's Ireland American Economic Advisory Board and the American Ireland Fund, New York Dinner Committee.

Paddy Duffy's story of his leaving home, is a story of what many other young people experienced and he tells it very well.

August 7th 1957.
A date indelibly imprinted on my mind, the date I left home to go to the farmers in England. My belongings were packed, all my wordly possessions were in one suitcase with plenty of space to spare. A good fried breakfast was prepared by my mother, who kept encouraging me to eat plenty as I might not get another opportunity to eat before I got to Dublin. Soon it was time to go and catch the bus at the Half-way-bush, a well known locally recognised bus stop, approximately a half mile from my home.
My Dad had preceded me to the bus stop, my suitcase across his bicycle. There was the customary handshake with my brothers and sisters, a kiss from my tearful mother, then it was time to walk the half-mile to the bus stop. My many neighbours came out to bid me farewell and placed some silver coins into my hand as "Luck Money".
On arriving at the Half-way-bush where my Dad was waiting, I hoped that the bus would be late. I needed more time with him, but alas, within minutes, the bus came into view. So with a quick handshake, an embrace, and tears in our eyes, we said goodbye.
I was on my way to England with three five-pound notes in my newly acquired wallet and a pocketful of "Luck Money" in half-crowns and two-shilling pieces. I glanced with nostalgia into the playground of Corthoon School, where I had spent ten happy care-free years, Sonnagh river where I had poached many fine Salmon and Sonnagh road where I did my first spot of courting. Very soon we were leaving Charlestown behind and on towards Dublin. I was now travelling through strange country, though less than twenty miles from home. I thought how small my world had been until that moment and I felt alone and insecure.

Well Paddy was on his way and eventually arrived in England. Some of the people he met there were of great help to the new emigrant, they were: Tom, Jim and Frank Burns, Tom McIntyre and Paddy Goldrick. Later on he met his cousins John and Paddy. Also Hughie Higgins from Killeen, and John Harrington from Carn. After some months his Uncle John helped him find work with Grant Lyon. He was a general foreman with the company. That particular job had both civil and railway engineering content, since it involved the rebuilding of the Quay side on the Manchester ship canal docks.

Paddy acquired a good knowledge and the technical skills to undertake many tasks with a minimum of supervision. In 1964 he was given his first management position as Area Manager of the Midlands. By 1980 he was in the position of Regional Manager. This involved handling many high profile projects. It was the era of the building of numerous Railway systems, such as: The Docklands Light Railway in east London, The Channel Tunnel and many major City centre Metro systems.

In December 1990, Grant Lyon was bought out by the powerful PLC British Steel. He was invited to take over the position of UK Contracts Manager with a responsibility for all the UK sites. He was the first Irish person to hold this position in the history of the company.

Paddy is now enjoying a happy retirement, a proud man in the knowledge of his achievements and a credit to his tearful parents, Jack and Mary.

© Cathal Henry 2005