He had gone to England for work; there was nothing to be had on this side of the Irish Sea, and he wanted to be able to give his children a life that didn’t revolve around waiting each week for meagre state benefits. What he earned had to cover his keep in England, so what was left to send back didn’t cover the cost of family life at home. He hoped to get a better job, but the shortfall meant that his wife back at home had to work until things improved.
She had a clerical job. Her mother looked after the three children during the week: two girls, one of school age and one just below school age, and a baby boy.
Flying home at the weekends was not an option in those times, typical air fares were around £200, at least two weeks’ wages. He got home when he could.
One weekend morning, after she had worked a long and tiring week, she was asleep in her room with the baby. Somehow the older girl got matches. One was struck that set light to part of the furniture in the girls’ room. There were no flames, just fumes that filled the room, fumes that claimed the lives of both little girls.
I found their picture amongst some old news cuttings. I cut it from the paper at the time as a reminder of what things had been like.
There was a jolt in seeing the photograph. This is what the world is like when your country has no work and no future for its people. Physical and mental tiredness cause people to make mistakes.
Had I been in his shoes would I have gone away? Of course. You do what you believe to be best for your kids and there would have been little for them in him sitting at home on the dole in a housing estate they dearly wished to escape. Both of them did what they believed would bring a better future.
No matter how bad the financial stories may be this week, things are infinitely better than Ireland of the 1980s