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Deborah O'Reilly | The Irish Experience - oral history project | Birmingham City Council

Deborah O'Reilly

I was born in Dublin in the city in 1923. My father rented a house up in the Dublin mountains; he got himself a lorry and went into the sand business. He did that for years and we were very comfortable. My mother kept hens and chickens; she wasn't well for years, she had broken her ankle and couldn't walk right. My father was very strict. I was never hungry; we had bacon and eggs, and beef stew, and we had coddle (which was bacon, onions, carrots, and corn flour and potatoes).

I went to a state school, not a church school, it was just one room. I started when I was about 6 or 7. It was about a mile and a half to walk to school. We had homework every night, they were very strict. We stayed at the same school with the same two teachers until I was 14. We learnt Gaelic, but I didn't like it. I didn't see the sense of where I could use it. When I went home there were no other children to play with, only my brother. We used to play "tig", we were still playing that at 14! We were still real children, I wish I could see a real child now. My cousin gave me a doll's pram, that to me was great, and at Christmas we might get one present each.

I had to leave school on the day I was 14 and go and work in a factory. My job was making the black lead for grates, it was really filthy. Then during the war we were laid off. I was living at home but I couldn't stay and do nothing, I was lonely. So I decided to go and do housework; I went to an agency and went to work at a big house. I used to cycle there, it was 4 miles. They used to keep all the food locked up.

I decided to come over to England and I answered an advertisement for the GEC. I came over with another girl. They paid our fares and they got us lodgings and paid us 2 weeks in advance. I didn't like the factory and I left within 2 weeks. Then I got a job at ICI. I had no idea about big machinery. The machine came crashing down; I was a nervous wreck, but I wouldn't give in. I made out I was used to the noise. I was earning about £3 a week, not much more than in Ireland. I was paying about £2 for lodgings, that was full board.

I used to go back to Ireland at Christmas and in the summer. I sent money every week to my mother. When my father died, my mother sold the house and the money was divided between Mother, my brother and me. Eventually my mother came over to England; she had been very lonely. I looked after her for 5 years until she died.

No, I wouldn't go back to live in Ireland; it's not the same, all the cars, there weren't many cars when I left. But I do miss the storytelling, people would be there at midnight telling ghost stories.

I do remember that people always made me feel welcome.