'The part of west London that I frequented was not what I had expected a big city to look like'

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'The part of west London that I frequented was not what I had expected a big city to look like'


Frank remembers going to London.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

Is Part Of

Adolescence and Early Adulthood


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

London, England

Temporal Coverage


Life Story Item Type Metadata


It was great to be back in familiar territory, but after a few weeks I got restless again. I brought back very little money from Kenya and needed to start generating income as soon as possible. I did not see any opportunities locally. When John McKay, a Clonkill colleague, invited me to join him on construction sites in London, earning five pounds per day, I jumped at the opportunity. I had not been to London and was very interested in going there. On my first morning by 8am I was somewhere near Hounslow shovelling ready - mix concrete into a barrow and hoisting it up two floors. Two of us were working together. A fresh delivery of ready - mix came every hour. By 11am I was shattered and ready to quit. I wasn't physically fit enough for this heavy work. After a couple of days I moved on to working in a steel factory in Southall. The work suited me and I was getting a feel for what it was like to be a factory worker. I was the only Irish person in my section. My boss, who was English, insisted on calling me Paddy; I didn't like that. After a couple of weeks I moved on to helping two ex - prisoners reconstruct part of the wall around Uxbridge football pitch. They chatted light - heartedly about their history of robbery with violence. They were interested in my background but I steered well away from my Maynooth BA. There was a small canteen near where we were working that provided meals that were reasonably priced and included delicious pudding and custard for desert; I was reluctant to move away from that canteen. I usually took one day a week off to go in search of other jobs. I soon realised that my BA degree was not a good qualification for instant employment. I wished that I could say I was a carpenter or an electrician, or in some other specific area of work. At one point I was hoping to land a job in Lloyd's Bank, but at interview I failed to convince them that I was serious about staying on in London after the summer holidays. I spent a few very enjoyable days on a building site near Uxbridge with two Westmeath men. We talked and laughed our way through hours of hard work. We exchanged some local gossip and I heard tales of after - dance romps in hedges and hay - sheds in north Westmeath. Johnny told us of his efforts in 1945 to give his neighbour, Mick, some sense of the enormous destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. When at last the penny seemed to have dropped Mick shook his head and said: 'Oh, horrid yoke; cut t'eye out of ye'. Another weekend was spent doing maintenance work in a sausage factory; this put me off sausages for over six months. The part of west London that I frequented was not what I had expected a big city to look like. I was surprised to find it made up of a network of small towns in close proximity to each other - Perivale, Greenford, Southall, Ealing, Acton and others. I first stayed in Greenford and then moved to Perivale. I soon became familiar with the Central and Circle lines of the London Underground. It was easy to make contact with the large numbers of young Irish people in the city. Sunday mass in Greenford was a similar experience to Sunday mass in Ireland - the priest was Irish, the congregation was Irish, and much of the conversation after mass was about football and hurling, either in Ireland or in New Eltham. On a Sunday afternoon in New Eltham, in southeast London, I saw three playing pitches busy with hurling and football matches. I was approached by a number of different clubs asking me to play hurling for them. I declined for two reasons. Firstly I was not fit, and secondly the hurling that I saw was rough, bordering on being dangerous. The evening that the great train robber, Ronnie Biggs, escaped from Wandsworth Prison I was on Wormwood Scrubs hitting a ball around with a couple of friends. The first person we met as we were leaving told us that Biggs had escaped across the wall beside where we were playing. I enjoyed telling this story until I discovered that he had never been that close to me. One Saturday night I went to a music session in a hall in Ealing. It was packed with Irish people; three men were playing accordions and singing. Volunteers came forward to sing. They all sang about Ireland with great feeling and emotion; some tears were shed. I got the impression that the majority of those present were longing to be back home with their families in Ireland. In The King's Head in Fulham one Saturday night I found myself among neighbours, with three families from Clondaliever represented - Byrnes, Loughlins and McGraths. Most young men that I met on the building sites were Irish, employed by Irish sub - contractors, and paid in cash. Many were sending a little money home. I worked for John McKay for a few weeks. John was very honest and worked hard at developing his business. He made rapid progress during the following years, and went on to accumulate considerable wealth. Another man made the mistake of thinking that subcontracting was an easy route to riches. He delivered his workmen to the building site in the morning and then spent the rest of the day relaxing in a pub. When his business collapsed he made a hasty escape back to Ireland, leaving behind some angry unpaid workers. At times when I was having 'great craic' on a building site, one of my colleagues would say 'You'll never go back now'. At the back of my mind was my BA and the possibility of topping it up with another qualification; few of my colleagues had that option. At the end of September I decided to go to Galway and qualify as a secondary school teacher. I gave my landlady in Perivale one week's notice. She blew her top because I had not given her two weeks notice. She had also complained the evening I came home smelling of sausages, and disapproved of the postcard I received saying something about the choirmaster playing with his organ. The morning I left she followed me to the bus stop on Western Avenue and was still shouting at me as I boarded the bus.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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