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1950's through to the 1970's, immigration was a way out for many of Ireland's people due to a shift in the economy after the war for independence. Immigration was not confined to the educated classes. People from the richest and poorest places in Ireland immigrated in large numbers during this time. Socially, Ireland was a drab and morose place to be because of its strict conservatism. Many of the nation's young longed to get out. During this time, there was a lack of suitable employment, which also ensured the constant stream of immigration.
This immigration project was conducted using information obtained through two interviews. The respondents are an Irish couple named Mary and John Taylor, who have been married for nearly 30 years. Both Mary and John moved from Ireland to New York, although at separate times and from separate counties.
Mary was born in Cavan, a small rural county in the south of Ireland. She grew up on a farm and was the oldest of twelve children. Her father and mother both worked a great deal on the farm so Mary assumed many of the housekeeping and childrearing duties, as she was the oldest.
The most influential person in Mary's family was her mother. She ran the house with an iron hand and was a confident, assertive and dominant person within her own home. However, outside the house, she had less social confidence. Her town was a conservative one and her family was very religious.
Mary did not experience a lot of luxuries in her childhood. She walked to school and church but since the family did not own a car, she did not get outside of her neighborhood very often. Mary remembers reading papers and listening to the radio and longing for more.
When she was sixteen, Mary finished school and was sent to London with one of her sisters, Katie, to work in her aunt's restaurant. Mary and Katie worked there for four years before they were sent to New York to live with their great-aunt. It was their choice to come to America, as they hoped it would lead them to more opportunity. Mary was 20 in 1969, when she arrived in New York via airplane with her sister. She had about $100 to her name.
John was born in Tralee, a busy city in the county of Kerry, nearly five hours from Cavan by car. His family was well-to-do, as both of his parents had good jobs. His father was a successful salesman and his mother was a fashion buyer. He had one brother and one sister. The children were partially raised by a nanny, as his mother was not very domestic. John remembers his parents as being "very busy all the time." He wanted to grow up to be an important businessman like his dad.
John's family was one of the first in his town to own a car. However, the furthest the family went in the car was around the Ring of Kerry on vacation. He also remembers that his family was one of the first on his street to have a television. His parents had company over to watch some concert on the television and this particular couple applauded at the end of each piece.
John never worked in Ireland, aside from a newspaper route. He went to school until the age of 18, when he was sent to America by his parents to pursue a college education. John arrived in New York in 1970 via airplane. He says he expected to return home when he finished school. He had one aunt and several cousins in New York. He lived with his aunt for the first year, and then found an apartment with a friend who came from Ireland, as well.
Both Mary and John were very impressed with New York. Mary had never seen such a big, bustling city and immediately became involved in community groups and activities, expressing an interest in everything the city had to offer. John was from a larger town in Ireland than Mary was, but still, he had never seen anything like this city. He was a little more conservative than Mary in his approach, preferring restaurants and pubs that reminded him of home.
John and Mary both remember becoming a part of the large Irish community in New York. Many of their peers had moved to New York from Ireland and there were a lot of social activities in the city, including dances and clubs. Mary and John met at a dance in 1971. Until that dance, the two had never laid eyes upon each other.
The two went on a single date and then Mary stopped returning John's calls. Apparently, she did not appreciate the fact that he showed up an hour late for their second date. At the time, Mary was a stunningly beautiful young woman and simply called an admirer in the downstairs apartment to take her out instead. When John arrived, Mary's sister informed him that Mary had left already. John called her several times afterwards but she avoided him.
During this time, Mary and her sister worked as telephone operators and found an apartment with another Irish woman, named Kathy. John pursued a two-year degree by taking evening classes, and worked as a janitor until he was offered a chance, by a shop supervisor, to learn the welding trade.
The two met again at a social event in Christmas of 1971. They fell in love over the next year and were engaged by Christmas of 1972. Their parents approved of the marriage and both families flew to New York for their October 1973 wedding. They had their first child, Sean, in 1974. Mary quit her job at the telephone company to become a full-time housewife.
The couple took a superintendent position when they got married so they could get free rent in exchange for building management. They began saving to buy a house.
John grew in his organization, rising from night-shift welder to plant supervisor in just a few years. The couple had a second child, Kaitlyn, in 1976. Shortly after, they moved into a house in Middle Village, Queens, which they purchased with their savings. Their third and last child, Kevin, was born in 1980. John has worked for the same company his entire life and has risen to a directorial level. Mary took a part-time job when her kids started school, working as a nursing assistant to elderly people.
Today, Sean is 28, Kaitlyn is 26, and Kevin is 22. All three graduated from college and pursued their fields of interest. Sean is a network engineer at a software company. Kaitlyn is a journalist for a newspaper. And Kevin is currently unemployed but seeking an entry-level position in technology.
Of the three, Sean is the only one who is married. He just had his first child four months ago with an Irish-American woman. They named the child Miles. Kaitlyn lives in San Francisco now, where she moved after college for the experience. She ended up loving it and plans to stay there. She is in a long-term relationship but has no immediate plans of marriage. Kevin lives with his girlfriend in Brooklyn.
Mary and her sister Katie were the only two members of their family to move to America. John's brother joined him several years later, while his sister stayed in Ireland. Mary became an American citizen immediately because of her aunt's efforts. John became a citizen through his marriage to Mary.
Neither John nor Mary ever returned to Ireland to live, although they both go back to visit once every year. John expresses a desire to retire in his homeland but Mary says, "no way!" She sees Ireland as a rather backward country with a fraction of the opportunities and luxuries she enjoys here. John sees Ireland as the country he loves and longs for yet says he will not return to live there without his wife.
Both Mary and John agree that their children benefited from their decision to move to New York for many reasons. Number one: they were born. Number two: they have countless opportunities that were never afforded to the couple because of their place of origin. Number three: they will benefit from their parent's financial security, which was the result of hard work in America.
Up until the mid 20th century, signs saying, "No Irishmen need apply," faced unemployed Irishmen in America. This never happened to Mary, John or their families. Perhaps this was because they already had established roots in the city. Both Mary and John's older relatives had married Americans, so they did not have this negative experience either, even though they arrived during one of the most discriminatory periods of American history.
The Irish, as a whole, succeeded in America for many reasons. First, they used internal networking. The Irish made up a large part of communities throughout America and stuck together. They used advice, skills and…[continue]
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