MY FUTURE wife got a job in a bank — a job she wouldn’t have got if she was still living in Fermoy.
That was the reason why we came to England in the first place, to save enough money to buy a house and get married.
Although I spent 15 years in my job in Fermoy, I met Mary who also worked there.
She was the best thing that ever happened to me and made up for my wasted years in that job. I must admit that there had been very little employment in Fermoy.
During those years in London, Mary got a nice flat run by two lovely Irish people —Mrs O’Brien from Galway and her husband Patrick from Dunmanway.
We had a great time getting to know London, a wonderful place when you are young. There was so much to see with beautiful parks like Hyde Park and Kensington Park to name but a couple. We were able to go to the many musical shows in the West End like Cats and Les Misérables, Oklahoma, The King and I and lots more. We also visited lovely places outside London. They were marvellous years.
On June 20, 1970 we got married in St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham Common, a church we went to every Sunday for mass.
Mary made her own wedding dress and made all the arrangements. She booked the band and the reception in the Alexandra Hotel which was a few minutes walk from the church.
We had about 60 guests and we both paid for all that was involved in the wedding.
It was a beautiful sunny Saturday and of course a very special occasion. I remember stepping out on the hotel balcony, looking across the beautiful Clapham Common Park with the trees, flowers and shrubs in full bloom and the sun shining and thinking of how lucky I was and would you believe at that moment an Irish pipe band came marching by. I just couldn’t believe it. They were playing Irish tunes which made it wonderful.
At 6pm Mary’s brother Billy drove us to the Waterloo Station where we got the train to Portsmouth and the ferry to the Isle of Wight, a beautiful place. The sun shone for the whole week. Our B&B was a lovely place and we had a wonderful time.
We started off married life in a one big roomed flat with a small kitchen and old cooker. I don’t know how Mary cooked our meals on it. There was no water or sink. It was a very bog Victorian house.
As you went in the front door you had a family on the left and right. Up the stairs there was a bathroom that was to be shared. Up some stairs from that we had our flat.
There was an Irish family living across from us. The wife was from Cork and the husband from Kerry and they had one daughter Angela.
At the very top of the house you had two more families. It suited us fine and we had no problems. In fact, we were lucky to get this flat.
We would go to mass every Sunday at 10.30am. When we came out, there was always a man from Dublin selling The Sunday Press from Ireland. Mary’s mother would also send us The Avondhu paper so we would have all the news. It meant I knew how the local GAA were doing. Mary’s mother was always great to write with news of deaths. Mary, like myself would write home regularly.
Our ambition was to save enough money to put down a deposit on a house. The Labour Party was in government at the time and you could buy a house for €6,000.
Neither of us smoke or drank so saving €1,000 as a deposit was a possibility. Unfortunately, the Tory Party got into power and as a result, the houses went up to €12,000. It was a great blow to our plans as well as to many others who dreamed of having a house of their own.
Our daughter Siobháin was born on July, 28, 1971 in the South Maternity Hospital, Clapham. Her birth was a wonderful and special occasion.
When I look back at it now, I don’t know how Mary managed. She was absolutely marvellous. You must remember that it was only a small flat with no water or sink in the kitchen. We had little space for Siobháin in her cot. It was a tough time for us but especially for Mary.
We went to Lambeth Council to see if they could give us a house but they had about 6,000 people on the waiting list. Mary was not well received by the office and was told to wait in line. She wrote to the manager of housing, explaining our situation and they agreed that our flat was no place for a baby. We were offered a flat in a very densely populated area in Brixton. It was in a very high building. With the shortage of housing in London, the government was building vast estates outside London and encouraging families to move out. One of these towns was Basington in Hampshire. We decided to give it a try.
After that our son Seán was born on November 10, 1974 in Basingtoke Hospital-another wonderful occasion in our lives.