Gone westApr 14th, 2008 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Ireland
Uncle Will moved house in 1915.
While the old world was destroying itself amongst mud, bullets and wire, Will was building a life in the new world.
He wrote to his sister on September 6th 1915 that she should not forget to change his address when next writing.
Will’s postcard from the United States, which was then a neutral country, was marked by the optimism that for so long characterised all things American.
The Dime Savings Bank in Detroit, Michigan was twenty-three storeys high, commanding great views of the countryside around. The streets that passed had tramcars and motor cars with white walled tyres. This was a land of dreams for Irish people, particularly those from poor rural areas.
Will wrote that his new address would be 39 Pilgrim Avenue, Detroit, Michigan.
Imagining Will had been writing from a downtown apartment block, a search for Pilgrim Avenue on Google Earth brought a picture of leafy suburbia. Grids of neat tarmac roads enclose detached houses, each on their own plot of land. Maybe in 1915 it was not just so salubrious, maybe the roads were more like tracks, but they would probably not have had thatched roofs and earth floors.
Will, like generations of Irish, crossed the Atlantic and built a new life. Fifty years later Brian Friel’s characters were still looking west for opportunities; seventy years later 10% of the population, some 350,000, were seeking US visas to escape the unemployment and hopelessness of the 1980s. As delegates from the Irish trade union SIPTU meet today to discuss entering talks on a new national wage agreement, perhaps they would remember Uncle Will and all who left. The rise and rise of the Euro has left Irish companies struggling for competitiveness, there is a danger that by 2015 a new generation of Wills may appear