May started working at the young age of fourteen when she was in Ireland. Her first job was at the biscuit factory run by Jacobs, a job the nuns found for her. Having a job in those days was essential as there was no welfare support in Ireland.
May’s grandmother left Ireland for England when she was sixty-five years old. She lied about her age and told prospective employers she was actually forty-five. She worked in the kitchens at Luton and Dunstable Hospital and carried on working into her eighties before retiring.
May’s grandmother wrote back home to the family and told them that work was plentiful. She advised May’s father to send over the eldest two girls to find work in England. By this stage May was sixteen years old and her oldest sister eighteen. Fearing that she was too young to find a job when she moved, May decided to follow her grandmother’s example and change her age, getting a friend to amend her birth certificate so that it showed she was two years older. She had been told worrying stories that if she was sixteen when she came to England she would not be allowed to work and would have to go back to school.
Crying as she left Ireland, May hated her early days in Luton and remembers being sad and tearful for most of the first month after she arrived. She was disorientated in Luton, to her the town looked simply like a big field and she had no sense of being connected to the place. Her initial plan was to stay for a while before heading back home to Ireland.
Her first accommodation was with Mrs Smith who owned the Leicester Arms public house. She lived there with her sister and grandmother until they had saved enough money to put down a deposit to purchase a house.
May experienced prejudice from English people when she was a newcomer to the country. She remembers them talking negatively about the Irish saying that they were depressing house prices when they moved into a locality. Resentment was palpable as she noticed comments about the Irish arriving in “boat loads” and in “droves”.
Despite having feelings that she was unwelcome May worked hard at her job and to build a comfortable home life. Her house was the best kept on the street with the best dressed windows. Friends and family were always welcome to visit.
May worked at Pearce & Doves, the Skefko Ball Bearing Company Works on Leagrave Road in Luton before getting a job with ACDelco, who manufacture vehicle parts. Back when she started with ACDelco none of her Irish colleagues had their birth certificates, regulations were relaxed then and the company told the workers not to worry if they had started employment at the wrong age. May worked with ACDelco until her retirement in 2000, by then she had performed a variety of roles including soldering, welding and packing windscreen wipers for Range Rovers.
She was married to her English husband at St Joseph’s Church but she was not allowed to get married at the altar, no mass was said and no wedding flowers permitted.