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Margaret Morrissy | The Irish Experience - oral history project | Birmingham City Council
Photograph of Margaret Morrissy

Margaret Morrissy

I was born just about 2 miles outside Armagh in a place called Mulloghmoor on 20 August 1916. I was the second born, I had a brother older and a younger brother. We had a smallholding; we had our own cows, horses, hens and ducks. My mother used to rear turkeys. They used to sell the turkeys and keep one or two for Christmas.

When I was about 5 years old I went to school. In the summer time we went to school in bare feet. We had shoes, but we loved going in our bare feet. It was about 2 miles along rough country road full of stones. We used to get cuts and bruises, we didn't mind. We used to love going in bare feet because we used to get into the bog. We used to have the time of our lives jumping the banks.

We would have just a few pieces of bread, that's what we took to school. There was no such thing as school meals. We would have a drink of water from the well, which was quite near the school. The Master was named Brogan. There was only one big room and 2 classes. There were the big children up to 16, and the young ones, 3 to 4 years old.

We had a big turf fire in the school room, it was lovely. We had the same at home, we had a big wide fireplace, and if you sat near the fire you could look up the chimney and see the stars.

Nearly all the homes were thatched except for some big houses in the town. Eventually, when people got on, they discarded the thatch and had slate. We had our own well down at the foot of the field. We used to take 2 buckets. The water would then be kept on the dresser with the crocks. There were no baths, on Saturday nights my mother would wash us in front of the fire as best she could.

I left school at 17 or 18, there wasn't much work about. I was fairly well educated, but there was nothing to do with it. Being a Catholic you were at a disadvantage, you were asked what school you went to, and that was it.

I got married in Armagh in 1941, and then moved to Dublin where my husband was working for British Rail. He was sent over here on a temporary basis, to work in the Goods Depot at Curzon Street. He never got back.

It was terrible coming over here, it was awful. I had never been on a boat before. The war had ended 5 weeks before and there were still mines in the water. In 1945 there were very few Irish people up until about 1951. It was very strange here after coming from a country place. My mother broke her heart when I left. She never got over me leaving, but I had to follow my husband.

I really do miss Ireland. We always said when the kids grow up we'll go home, but it didn't work out. I think you would find the majority of Irish people regret having to leave, it's a big wrench.

I must say Birmingham and England have been good to me and my family, and I have no fault whatever to find with anyone here. There are some wonderful people, and they have been good to me.

We used to have everything fresh, vegetables, eggs and milk. We could dig potatoes straight out of the ground and boil them. There were no chemicals used. And mother made all our bread. Father played an old squeeze box, and my brother had his own Ceili band. We would go and you would dance all night.

It's so changed. It's not the Ireland I left. We lived near the Spiral Mountains, it was beautiful. I dream about it, the mountains were the first thing I saw in the morning.