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Eileen Baker | The Irish Experience - oral history project | Birmingham City Council
Photograph of Eileen Baker

Eileen Baker

I was born in Ennis, County Clare, in 1928; there were only 3 children, 1 brother and 2 sisters. My parents were small farmers, we had a smallholding, we sold vegetables and milk. We had about 8 or 9 cows and a small number of sheep. We had 2 or 3 acres of vegetables. We were what you might call comfortable, we lived with my grandfather. Ennis was a market town then, but today it's almost a city.

We lived in a thatched cottage, it was my grandfather's. My mother was brought up there. When she married my father, he moved in. My grandfather had a lot of land, and when he got older he shared it out with his 3 daughters and son. That's how the smallholding was left to my mother and father. We had a water tap and a huge range with a double oven and all the water was heated on it. It was heated by coal.

At 5, I went to the local convent school; the nuns were very strict, some of them were lovely, really dedicated. I left at 14, then I went to the college; I left there at 17. The standards today in Ireland are fantastic, there is no need to emigrate, it's very prosperous.

I went to work in a local store. In those days, you either went nursing, served your apprenticeship in a store, went into domestic service, or you emigrated. That's all the choices you had. I was still at school when I met my husband, it was at the local ceili of course. It had to be approved by the families or it didn't do.

When he came over to England we were engaged, and then he sent for me, I was 20 then. I am the only one from my family to emigrate. When I came to Birmingham he was working for Wimbushes Bakery, he worked there for 30 years. He got me a job in Despatch at Wimbushes. I worked there for a couple of years and then we got married, at the Holy Family Church on Coventry Road.

It was a terrible shock for me when I first came to England. My husband met me at New Street station and in 1947 things were awful here. I wasn't used to all the houses, and after the war there were pig bins in the streets, nothing was wasted. When I got to the digs it was run by Birmingham people, well I might as well have been in Russia, I couldn't understand a word they said, and they couldn't understand me. The food in the digs was awful, fish paste we were fed on. My mother used to send me food parcels; she thought we were starving. On some of the windows were written "No Irish need apply" when there were vacancies. These people here were all marvellous people, wonderful when you think of what they went through. We didn't experience any of that being neutral.

I did seem to settle in quite rapidly and make friends on both sides. We used to go to Mass, and the church would have dances. We used to go to a ceili down at St Anne's in Digbeth every Saturday night. We had the Clare Association, which had Irish singing and dancing.

After 3 years I went home for the first time. In those days the boats were like cattle ships, they were really dreadful. We used to be packed in like cattle, the conditions were disgusting. Now it's luxury to travel on them.

I don't think I would have emigrated at all, but for Gerald being here. Many people had no choice, there was terrible poverty.