The new Galway Tribal Diaspora Project is gathering tales from native Galwegians who left Ireland to start a new life abroad. This is Tom Higgins, in Ontario, Canada's story.
Read more: New Galway project tells Diaspora Tribe's stories from around the world
Like so many Galway people before him, Tom Higgins wanted to leave Ireland in order to explore the world. Tom and a friend were given visas by the Canadian Embassy in Dublin in June 1966. ‘The Troubles’ were about to start closer to home, but they also encountered conflict in Canada. Things did not go smoothly at first.
“We found the French language hard to handle while the separatist group the Front de Libération de Québec (FLQ) were causing havoc with a number of bombings throughout Montreal. We also were unfortunately only a year ahead of EXPO ‘67 in Montreal and could see the site being built,” he says.
They could not find work in Ontario, either, although they had the name of a construction company written on a slip of paper. Down to their last few dollars, they took the advice of two friendly men who told them to “go west”. After three days and four nights on a Greyhound bus, they arrived in Vancouver. Another slip of paper, with the address of an old school-friend of his mother’s, proved to be Tom’s salvation.
“At the time I said ‘Mom, Vancouver is on the other side of Canada to where we are going’, but in the big picture it saved our bacon. Maureen O’ Neil-Bennett and her husband Bill and their two kids took us under their wings for about six months, which was awesome of them. Later on, they became my adopted Mom and Dad and my two sons called them Auntie Maureen and Uncle Bill,” says Tom.
Tom met his future wife in Vancouver and now lives in the small town of Penticton, which was a great place to bring up his two sons. He says that Penticton is beautiful, like the west coast of Galway, and that his children and grandchildren are proud of their Irish roots. The entire family returned recently for the funeral of his auntie, Kitty Barrett, who was the Queen of the Claddagh, the ancient fishing village in Galway.
You can read more stories from the Galway Tribal Diaspora Project here:
- Patrick J. Conneely, Massachusetts
- Danny Darcy, Tenerife, Spain
The entire Galway Tribal Diaspora Project can be viewed online at galwaytribe.com. If you have a friend or family member who would be interested in taking part, you can email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the online application form at www.galwaytribe.com.
* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs Blogger of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia onTwitter @ciarantierney.