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Mary Carter | The Irish Experience - oral history project | Birmingham City Council
Photograph of Mary Carter

Mary Carter

I was born in County Longford in Far Dromed in 1919. Most people had small farms about 14 or 15 acres. We lived in a small farmhouse, most houses had 2 or 3 bedrooms, a living room and kitchen. My sister went to America when I was 3 and there was me and my 2 brothers. In those days the eldest would go away, usually to America; when I saw her I couldn't think of her as a sister.

My father and brothers used to work the farm, and my mother and I would help. I used to help with the hay and the potatoes. We didn't have running water or electricity, it was oil lamps. My job was to get the water, it was about a mile to the spring well. There were lots of wells but we went to the spring well for making butter. We had open turf fires, they were beautiful. At night we always had a big fire. We had an old oven and we used coal to cook. My father was a builder as well as a farmer, and he would go away a lot. The neighbours that he did jobs for would bring turf and wheat for us, and mow the grass to pay him. It was a nice community.

I was just over 5 when I started school. One brother had left by then and the other brother used to take me. There were 2 separate schools, one was for infants. I went to the same school until I was 14. I used to have to carry 2 lots of turf to school each morning. Everybody brought their turf to keep the school warm. I used to have to plant the potatoes when I came home from school, and when they cut the corn we used to tie it into a sheaf. I had lots of time to play, and when the lake froze over we would spend all day playing on it.

When I left school I just used to help my mother. The war was on in England and they weren't letting anyone go or I would have come over sooner. To get to England you had to have someone offer you a job. To get here it took 2 days, with a night in Dublin.

I wanted to travel and go to another country. I didn't want to stay after my father died. I was about 22 when I first came over, the war had just finished and I had a job in Northampton with a family. I looked after their 3 children. They were nice people and I stayed about 2 years. I had a friend who was working in an ice-cream parlour in Bexhill on Sea, so I went down there. I used to get 30 bob a week. There was nothing to do in Bexhill, it was too quiet, so we came to Birmingham and got digs in Sparkhill. All we wanted to do was go dancing, there was a dance hall in Hurst Street by the Hippodrome, another in Waldorf Road Sparkhill, and the Garry Owen.

I met my husband at an Irish dance, but he's not Irish; he was a plasterer and he used to pal up with the Irish. There was a big Irish community in Small Heath, everyone that kept lodgers had 2 or 3 Irish. I loved living in Small Heath, but it's changed; most of the Irish have gone. I came to live in Sheldon 44 years ago, we came here when my son was a baby. We were living in rooms and the night I came out of the hospital with the baby they told us we couldn't stay there.

My first job in Birmingham was at the BSA, I think every Irish man and woman landed up there. We stayed there about 2 months and then we got into the Rover at Lode Lane. I worked there for 7 years. Then I went to Willmott Breedan; I didn't like it there. I got married while I was working at Willmotts.

I know I could go home if I wanted to. My one brother never left home, he ran the farm and stayed with my mother. She died when she was 88. I always went home to see her, but I never wanted to go back to live.

It's a lot better there now, they have cars and posh houses, better houses than over here; it's really booming now. People are going back to work in Ireland, and the money is better.