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    “I Only Came Over for a Couple of Years” records experience of London Irish

    Monday, May 11th, 2009

    Yet another oral history project detailing the experience of elderly Irish emigrants has come to your correspondent’s attention. “I Only Came Over for a Couple of Years”, a documentary that was completed in 2005, is now available on DVD from the Irish Studies Centre of London Metropolitan University. The film is a collection of interviews of Irish elders who came over to London between the 1930s and 1960s.

    The DVD is a production of the Irish Elders Now project, which is aimed at building a substantial video and oral record of a generation of Irish migrants to Britain whose stories and experiences have been underrepresented in other official records.

    For more information and to order the DVD, visit the Irish Studies Centre website.

    Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora examines abortion trail

    Monday, May 11th, 2009

    “Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora: The ‘abortion trail’ and the making of a London-Irish Underground, 1980-2000″ by Ann Rossiter tells the story of the London-Irish women who have supported many of the Irish women who have travelled to Britain for abortions.

    The book, which was launched in Dublin on Wednesday by Senator Ivana Bacik,  is an oral history record of the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group and the Irish Abortion Solidarity Campaign. Author Anne Rossiter is a Limerick-born campaigner who has lived in London for 25 years.

    Related web pages:

    Irish Times: The kindness of strangers who helped Irish women abandoned by the State

    Federation of Irish Societies: Book Launch: Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora

    Colm Toibin focuses on reluctant exile in “Brooklyn”

    Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

    Colm Toibin’s new novel, “Brooklyn”, garnered substantial press over the weekend. The author’s sixth novel is about a reluctant emigrant from Enniscorthy who moves to the New York borough knowing “the rest of her life would be a struggle with the unfamiliar”. The book reflects on the pangs of homesickness and depicts the struggles of the main character, Eilis as she adapts to a new land fraught with its own struggles and eventually falls in love.  Just as she begins to settle in, Eilis is called home by a family tragedy and must return to Enniscorthy.

    The book is receiving widespread critical acclailm.

    Related web pages:

    Ringsend native publishes memoir on American life

    Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

    Angeline Kearns Blain, a woman raised in 1950s Ringsend who today is an adjunct professor of sociology at Boise State University in Idaho, has published a memoir. “I used to be Irish” is being lauded by critics for its insight into a story too little told: the experience of Irish women emigrants.

    Angeline Kearns Blain left Ireland at the age of 18 in 1957 to become the wife of an American soldier she had met at a Dublin bus-stop.  The streetwise young woman had been consciously focusing on Americans as romantic targets in order to escape her working-class life as a cinema ice-cream seller. After settling in New England with her conservative, Protestant husband, she eventually settles in Idaho Falls where her husband gets a job at a government nuclear research facility. She would suffer a nervous breakdown and a marital breakup before turning to education and a career in academia.

    The Irish Independent says “Her memoir is extraordinary, told with blunt honesty and scathing with. It’s a long way from the flats in Ringsend to being a professor at an American university”.

    The Irish Times review notes the subversive nature of Kearns Blain’s story:

    I Used To Be Irish exposes both the gender and class fault-lines not traditionally attended to in accounts of emigration: Kearns Blain’s overtures to a fellow Dublin woman emigrant marooned alongside her in a backwater town are spurned when the Loreto College graduate in question discovers that Angeline left school at 14 to scavenge dumps. The memoir upends the popular image of the Irish emigrant, that of the raw country boy pining for rural simplicity in a debauched foreign land: Kearns Blain is a streetwise Dubliner who knows enough about American popular culture to initially act the pure Irish colleen to beguile her GI, a teetotaller Puritan who later winces each time Angeline lets slip some obscene Dublin colloquialism or orders a shot of whiskey.

    Angeline Kearns Blain has also written a memoir of her Dublin childhood, called “Stealing Sunlight”.

    See related web pages:

    Emigrant stories make great Christmas gifts

    Friday, November 28th, 2008

    There have been plenty of emigration-related publications this year that would make delightful Christmas gifts. Several Irish centres have produced oral histories detailing the lives of emigrants to America and Canada, as well as the stories of those who have returned to Ireland.

    Here’s the rundown of this year’s publications:

    “Memory Brings Us Back: Irish Stories of Farewells and Fortunes”: This film by Derek Woods is the followup to “While Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again” – the 2006 hit book, produced by New York’s Aisling Irish Centre, detailing the lives of older Irish emigrants living in America. This DVD tells the stories of ten men and women who left for America between 1929 and 1965. With music by Joannie Madden, this film is sure to be a treat.

    Order both the DVD and the original book at the Aisling Irish Community Centre’s website.

    “Coming Home” – Frances Browner, the editor of “When Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again”, has returned to Ireland and compiled the tales of 36 emigrants who returned to their native land thanks to the help of the Safe Home organisation. Safe Home reports that this is a hot seller for Christmas. Their website says, “Frances Browner has conducted thirty-six fascinating interviews that highlight the heartache of leaving home; the struggles and successes of survival in a new land; the joy, and sometimes trauma, of returning.”

    Buy it at the Safe Home website.

    “A Story to be Told”: This gorgeously produced book tells the stories of 129 emigrants to Canada in their own words. Edited by Eleanor McGrath and with photographs by William C. Smith, this book reveals the diversity of the Canadian Irish experience, telling the tales of artists, mothers, a labour leader, a bus driver, a dance teacher, an actor, an engineer, an accountant. Their Irish identities are diverse as well, with tales of people from what seems like every possible background: rural farmers; Belfast Protestants and Catholics; Lithuanian descendants; Jewish Dubliners; American-and English-born, Irish-raised emigrants.

    Many of them express love for both Ireland and their adopted home of Canada: “Today I am a very proud Irish Canadian who is blessed to call two of the greatest places on the planet home”, says one interviewee in a sentiment echoed by many others – although some express greater loyalty to one country or the other. A moving book and a great addition to the increasing library of oral history books.

    Order the book from the Liffey Press.

    For another Canadian treat, Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In Group has created a wonderful miscellany called “Memories of the Past: Stories and Recipes from Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In Group?. The eclectic collection of reminiscences, poems, jokes, photographs and more is a splendid insight into the lives of the 40+ seniors in the drop-in group, which meets every week at Margaret Mary’s Church in the south end of the Canadian capital. This book has the most ‘home-produced’ feel, but with about 60 recipes, including for such traditional favourites as barm brack, colcannon, champ, porter cake, beef stew, and soda bread, this spiral-bound volume has much to offer.

    See the website for the Irish Society of the National Capital Region.

    For a musical treat (albeit a commercial one), check out “The Irish Scattering” from Galway traditional singer and musician Sean Keane. Available as both a CD and a DVD, the music tells diverse tales of Irish emigrants through the centuries, including the travels of Irish monks, Irish settlers in Montserrat, Irish soldiers abroad, and the Ulster-Scots in America. The CD features 16 songs; the DVD of the live performance features 28 songs with music and dancing from some of Ireland’s finest practitioners.
    Buy it at Sean Keane’s website.

    Any suggestions? Post them in the comments below.

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