Denis Moynihan was born in Bandon, County Cork in 1934. He came to England in 1952 and describes his arrival as “a big eye opener”.
He sailed from Cork to Fishguard in West Wales on the Innisfallen ship. The journey took nine hours and Denis experienced sea sickness for the first time on this long voyage. He travelled by train to London, Paddington where he was met by his aunt’s husband, who was English. His aunt lived in East Barnet and Denis stayed with the couple for his first eight weeks in England. His aunt’s husband helped him find a job, taking him to various offices to get the necessary cards and forms so he could be employed. He helped get Denis a job with de Havilland Engine Company at the aerodrome in Leavesden, near Watford. The pay was low, but that was usual for an eighteen year old with no experience.
While working in Leavesden he met a colleague from Killarney who took him in as a lodger. But the house was very cold, a new council house with no heating or hot water. He had to share a double bed with his colleague’s brother-in-law, who was from Leitrim. After a few months he was able to move out to a place with his own bed, a single room in a house owned by English people.
When Denis first arrived in England it took him some time to understand the English accents, but he found the Geordie accents the easiest to understand. Likewise many English people struggled with his Cork accent, with some people thinking he was Welsh.
In the year that Denis came to England King George V died and the following year Queen Elizabeth was crowned. The Coronation Day was a huge event in the UK. Not many people had televisions to watch the ceremony so most people celebrated with street parties. 1953 was also a time to rejoice as in that year and the year following saw most food rationing was abolished. When Denis arrived in England he had to obtain food rationing cards as most people on a low income could not afford to purchase meat, cheese, butter and even sweets and chocolate without them. For the wealthy this was not a concern as they had the money to buy the high protein foods.
As a young male Denis was called up to do National Service in 1955. He was required to serve two years in the armed forces, joined the RAF and was based in St Athan, South Wales sixteen miles outside of Cardiff. When he was discharged in May 1957 he resumed his job at the aerodrome. But there were cuts to the defence budget and de Havilland was not getting as many orders for products so Denis decided to seek alternative employment.
He travelled to the Vauxhall office and completed an application form in August 1957. The company contacted Denis in January 1958 and he was given an interview and medical examination. He was told he could start working whenever he was available and began working for Vauxhall that month. There was a big expansion of the workforce in this period as the car production capacity was increased. From the 1950s into the 1960s Vauxhall actively recruited labour from Norfolk, Yorkshire and Dundee. The Ellesmere Port factory was opened around 1963 which lead to the factories in Luton and Dunstable being downsized and eventually closed down. Denis worked for Vauxhall for thirty seven years before he took early retirement in July 1995. He was given a welcome bonus when he departed as anyone over the age of fifty-five who had completed twenty-five years of continuous service was given a new car on leaving.
Denis visits Ireland about twice a year to visit his relatives who still live there. He has not seriously considered the idea of returning to live in Ireland as he has lived in England so long he does not think he would be able to adjust to live over there.
Denis has visited countries in Europe numerous times, beginning with his first journey in 1962 when he went on a coach tour that took him to Rome. It was a great experience for him, from the sea journey from Dover to Ostend in Belgium, where he saw passenger terminals that dwarfed those he was used to the small shabby centres in Ireland, to seeing the Alps, the sight of the Swiss peaks was a revelation for Denis as it made the mountains in Cork and Kerry look like hills by comparison.
In 1980 he bought his own house. Something he wishes he had done years earlier as it is a much better environment to live in than living in lodgings or rented rooms.
Denis used to go to London by train most Saturday nights as the social scene was so lively with so many Irish dance halls in the capital. He often went to the best known club The Galtymore in Cricklewood and also to The Gresham in Holloway Road. As well as these venues there were many others the Irish enjoyed themselves in including locations in Hammersmith, Fulham Broadway, Tottenham Court Road, Kilburn and many others.
On bank holiday weekends many Irishmen from all over the UK used to congregate in London at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park and Camden Town to seek employment opportunities. Agents from the big contractors used to attend in order to recruit labour when the construction industry was thriving for the large projects, for example to build motorways and new towns outside of London like Harlow and Hemel Hempstead.
When Denis first came to England his aunt found the timing ironic as her father, Denis’ grandfather, was one the many Irishmen who worked in London in the late 1800s laying tracks as the railway infrastructure expanded; when Denis and many Irish arrived in the 1950s the train lines were being removed, culminating in the Beeching Cuts up to the 1970s, when England’s railway network was vastly reduced.
Denis had some family who also lived in England, two great uncles on his mother’s side of the family lived in the London area. Some of his siblings also made the journey to live and work in England. Two of his sisters have remained in England, while the others decided to return to Ireland. The skills and knowledge they acquired about construction machinery working in England proved to be very useful when they returned.