From the Diary #2: A Woman to be Admired

Irish Girl by William Dargie

On Friday, in the gap between two jobs, I decided to start drafting a poem based on this prompt.  A woman to be admired.  I wanted the poem to be intimate. I wanted it to be based on someone I knew.  I chose my grandmother.

Now to the casual onlooker she may have led an unremarkable life. Married at thirty to a man from her home city, two sons and three grand daughters, retired at 60 from working in a canteen at a construction firm, dying at 70 from a massive stroke.  But those are the broad brush strokes: what about those small moments of courage in every life that make a life what it is?

For my grandmother I wanted to write a poem which celebrated her act of bravery in migrating from Dublin to Birmingham alone, as a young woman of 25.  Being the youngest of a large family, and the only one left living at home, she alone had nursed her mother and then her father through terminal illnesses.  As was the custom, the house she lived in was left to her eldest brother.  His wife told my grandmother in no uncertain terms that it was no longer her home.  She had to find some where else to live.

Deciding there was nothing left for her in 1940s Ireland, my grandmother moved to England.  Many before her had made that journey, but they were not her.  Each bravery is particular to each person.  She may have been twenty five but she was not worldly, her naivety could even have got her into great trouble.  (After her death I found a Government letter offering her leave to remain in England on compassionate grounds that her husband and two sons were British citizens.  She had not originally chosen a legal route of immigration).  She was grieving.  She had been rejected.  She was alone.  I don’t know what her journey was to reach the decision to migrate, but ultimately my grandmother rejected despair and chose a hopeful beginning in a new country.  That is a woman to be admired.

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2 thoughts on “From the Diary #2: A Woman to be Admired

  1. Yes Dal, in the 1940s Eire became a republic and completely separate from the British Empire. There wasn’t a change in migration laws until free movement of workers within the EU, I think.
    The extent of the bravery of her choices didn’t really hit me until I started writing about her, without even touching on the horrendous discrimination she would have encountered in England (the infamous ‘No blacks, Irish or dogs’ signs hung in boarding house windows, the wave of anti-Irish sentiment during the 70s IRA bombings). I think writing our family histories helps us to make sense of them X

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  2. Your Gran, Rita, was certainly a very brave woman to make that journey at 25 and create a meaningful life in England. Just amazing. The broad brush strokes of a real, lived life. Immigration, migration fascinates me. I wasn’t aware that migrants from Dublin had to get leave to stay in UK back then? Defintely a woman to be admired.

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Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back...

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