Where Did they Get You? is the title of a fascinating memoir by Bridget P. McDonnell. It recounts the story of one woman’s experiences: from growing up in Ireland in the 1940s and 50s; emigration while still in the prime of her youth; a career in nursing that spanned five decades and which took her to eight countries, as well as travels the length and breadth of the globe.
The past, as they say, is another country. This is also the story of the Irish Diaspora and the important, formative yet largely unacknowledged role which they played in the modernisation of Irish society. We are reminded of a time when choices were not as plentiful, doors were not always open and being Irish was not the automatic passport to popularity that many now assume it to be.
Ireland of the time was a country where young people were ‘raised for export’. Women and men went abroad to find work; not particularly out of choice but because of the economic necessities of the time. Circumstances such as these could have had an alienating effect, but the long-term impact probably served to cosmopolitanise:
It is a story that in some ways could be considered as typical of the author's generation. At the same time it contains much in the way of personal triumphs in overcoming adversity. She talks candidly of her experiences. Living and working abroad presented difficulties in terms of maintaining relationships with those she had left behind. At the same time, the constant yearning to return to her homeland made it difficult to forge meaningful relationships with those whom she encountered on her travels. Against this backdrop, she found strength in her own upbringing and convictions, as well as in her training as a nurse, psychiatric nursing in particular, which she found to be invaluable. Being in the business of healing the sick gives a certain insight into human behaviour and how people react to their circumstances.
Having moved back to Ireland, she retired in 2009 and today lives less than twelve miles from the place where she grew up.
Where Did They Get You? by Bridget P. McDonnell is published by The Manuscript Publisher (ISBN: 978-0-9571157-4-3). It is on sale now in all good bookshops and also online. RRP €12.95.