Emigration was a way of life

Matt Britton

Reporter:

Matt Britton

Emigration is a topic that is occupying the minds of many in the present financial climate - some feel that it is a lifestyle choice, others will say that it is not a choice at all - they simply have to go wherever they can find the work. For one Donegal Town man, Raymond Britton who went to London 25 years ago it was indeed a combination of both - a desire to explore pastures new coupled with ambition to work with what was “new technology” at the time.

Emigration is a topic that is occupying the minds of many in the present financial climate - some feel that it is a lifestyle choice, others will say that it is not a choice at all - they simply have to go wherever they can find the work. For one Donegal Town man, Raymond Britton who went to London 25 years ago it was indeed a combination of both - a desire to explore pastures new coupled with ambition to work with what was “new technology” at the time.

Raymond is still a very regular visitor to his home county and many of his friends believe that he is “more Donegal than those at home’ after his 25 year absence.

He recalls his early days growing up in Donegal Town, and the strong community spirit.

Speaking to the Donegal Democrat he recalled, “It’s odd the things that would spring to my mind when reflecting on earlier days - the family trips to the beach on the long hot summer days down in Mountcharles. There wasn’t a worry in the world of what life would entail just sun, sea and sand. It wouldn’t be long before you had a tribe of friends and mingling between all the families gathered there, working up a hunger and in and out of the tide. You wouldn’t want the days to end.

“Memories of Donegal in the early seventies remain vivid. In the town there was Fox’s General store and pub, I can recall the aromas of loose tea, tobacco and boiled ham which was cooked in a big pot in the kitchen shop; as you walked in through the door, you would be greeted by the smiling welcoming faces within. There was long worn wooden counter which spanned it’s length, covered in large glass jars full to the brim with boiled sweets, which you would be guaranteed to be offered in honor of your visit.

“Fox’s was more than a your normal run of the mill shop, it was a meeting place where locals would gather buy their fuel, grocery’s, meet with friends exchange the Craic with a pint in one hand, a cigarette in the other. As a child I would sit at the bar with a Cavan cola and a packet of Perri crisps, having the banter with the characters that would frequent.”

He recalls “I was never a great one for school, would drag my heels going up in the morning and was away like a greyhound in a race, at the end of the day.

“I had no idea what I wanted as a career but knew that the pressure was on to do something. My parents decided to send me to boarding school, but that didn’t last long before they gave up on raising Einstein.”

“I eventually signed up with the Irish defence forces, the 6th infantry battalion in Athlone. He recalls, “I enjoyed many aspects of army life - it did instill many disciplines to an individual who wanted to tailor the laws of society to fit his lifestyle.”

Eventually the Donegal Town man got an unexpected break in one of the most unlikely parts of the country which was to map out his future career.“My brother (this writer!) was managing an hotel in the remote West Kerry Gaeltacht on the Dingle Peninsula and he gave me the offer of a job.

“The hotel had the first satellite dish in Kerry which was 3 meters in diameter and it would regularly go off point due to the high winds which battered the coastline where we were situated. I spent many hours tweaking and tuning receivers and standing in gale force winds wrestling that dish just to bring CNN to the West Kerry natives.”

Eventually he moved on to new horizons and joined another brother who was in the IT sector in London.

He continued, “ I suppose emigration, going to London was just a way of life - the excitement of a new domain, and the hustle and bustle of a big city.

“One day, I lifted the Yellow pages and went to aerial companies and just picked out one advert to call, asking if they needed an installer. I had got my first interview and job!

“From there on my career progressed and I would have to emphasise the strength of the Irish Community in London - we all looked after each other.

“I was soon working with the McGill brothers from Ballyshannon in their company Skytec, along with my good friend Enda Coughlan from Inver and we just went from strength to strength - the satellite revolution had truly began.

“Everything was not plain sailing – there was the up’s and downs, we had recessions back then too, the Gulf crisis being the worst, but to cut a long story short, each stepping stone of opportunity took me in different directions and had to adapt to changes in the economy here and personal circumstances.”

Talking of the present financial climate and the plight of emigration at home Britton continued, “I know that our economies are in a slump at the moment with recession and job prospects are minimal in particular at home, much the same as it was in my youth.

“A poster outside the social welfare office showing a man, standing on a harbour holding his suitcase with a sticker on it ‘England’, and the caption on it ‘Why Not Emmigrate’. So I did!”

Raymond has been contracting to the cable and satellite industry since 1987 and is in his twelfth year as a HFC network engineer within Virgin Media, he attributes a lot of the opportunities and knowledge gained, to family, friends and Irish community who invested in his development.

“They had given me the chances and confidence I needed to progress, there are so many that I would love to thank on this article, but they know who they are, as they are still my friends today.”

His advice to those back home who are desperately seeking work is to take the plunge.

“I believe that the support I had back then still exists today. If you are sitting at home with nothing to do and no direction, like as in my situation, back then, just try to get motivated and give it a try, nothing lost and maybe a lot gained.

“There is work here in London; upgrades on the underground to handle the increase of tourist population expected for the Olympics, there is a government drive to build affordable homes all over the London capital and much more.

“Remember there is that community spirit both sides of the water and people who can open doors of opportunity. Many established successful Irish companies operating in London like Kelly Communications who over the years has given so many individuals from back home, employment and the training, which has secured their future long term in the industry.

“I suppose in London we are not really emigrants - we are really less than an hour away from home.”