A Lifetime of Memories by Tony Fennell

                             (It takes a great deal of Memory to produce just a little book space)

                                                  THE CHILDHOOD YEARS - 1948 to 1958  

                                                INTRODUCTION TO MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY

As we all grow older memories of our childhood and teenage years begin to fade, usually because we were wrapped up in the present day or planning and working towards the future improvement of ourselves and our families, looking forward and no time to look back.

How many times have you just been sitting around day dreaming, relaxing during a tea break or just a quiet moment when alone or at work when a memory of something from your distant past pops into your head, to all sense and purpose long forgotten times regarding comments between yourself and your then friends.

That one fleeting memory of a comment made or an old photograph viewed or an image of a forgotten holiday suddenly reminds you of times gone by, and you then start to remember that period with nostalgia, or regret, and it can make you laugh to yourself or even out loud, or even bring a tear to your eye.

As I grow older now with more available time to sit and think I find myself trying to remember as far back as I can, not just about myself and my brothers and my only sister or my immediate family, but for now especially my parents, other than just always been Mam and Dad they were once children and teenagers and young adults just like we were.

I try to piece together an image of my parents early years from old stories and tales I picked up from them over the years and from old photographs, also from comments made from remaining relatives that grew up with them, but realise of course I’ll never get a true picture of the way they really were.

This made me think that if all parents were to leave behind a written record of their youth and early adult lives for their children then all future generations of that family would be forever grateful, today there are “C D’s - Videos and DVD’S” excellent for recording all events, but I’m sure most people would agree there is nothing better than sitting quietly on your own with an interesting book to read.                                                                             

So this is my intention to leave behind something for my children, my grandchildren or my great grandchildren so that one day they may if they wish read about me and my previous way of life before “and after” I met and married my wife Margaret all those years ago

Now we are in the year 2010 and I’m in my mid sixties 65 in fact, my wife Margaret is now 60 my daughter Jennifer and my son Christopher are now in their forties, I look at these numbers and find it hard to believe that all those years have gone past so quickly, especially for me the last sixty years.                                                                            

Having officially left school at the age of fifteen seems not twenty years ago, (although I very rarely went to any school for more than a month) I look at my children when they visit and I honestly don’t feel any older then they are.

I may feel twenty years younger but the reality is I’m not, this more than anything has prompted me to write down my childhood memories that I can actually remember before it’s too late and made me realise just how fast the years are passing us by and memories are now fading.                                                                               

I well remember a simple comment my Dad made thirty three years ago, a comment I’m sure all parents make when they see their families growing up, while visiting my parents home on my fortieth birthday, Dad said to Mam shaking his head, can you believe it May our eldest son is now forty years of age.

I guess time waits for no one, she replied, I know May, he said, but just where have all those years gone, into the past and long gone just like our parents and their parents have, she replied in her straight talking Irish accent that she never lost.   Now in what seems a blink of an eye my younger brothers and my only sister are actually heading into their fifties and sixties also, I still see the young child and teenager in all of them.

I always felt the the past was over and long gone and I missed it, in spite of the early hardship times in Dublin, writing this autobiography I’m reliving it all over again.  What I realise more clearly now more than anything else is that the family we were in Dublin, the young family I remember so well changed within a couple of years of our arrival in Chester - England, It’s like two completely different families now.                                                        

What happened to cause this I don’t quite know, maybe we just grew up fast on our arrival back in England, a new world with a more relaxed and prosperous lifestyle.  I guess we just moved into a completely different lifestyle where children could be children and didn’t have to live by their wits just to eat, our previous way of life was gone forever, but the memories of those days will remain with me for the rest of my life.

That special family closeness we shared as children has remained into our adult lives without living in each other’s pockets; thankfully that closeness is still with us all to this day.                                                                   

I often try to think about my parent’s place of birth and where they were born, where they lived as children and as young adults, where they met each other, especially the type of world they lived in at that time.   What I know at this stage is that Mam and Dad were born in Dublin Ireland in the nineteen twenties and both travelled over to England in the early war years and later married in Birmingham in nineteen forty four.                                                                                      

Where to start then, well as all story tellers say just start at the beginning and take it from there, and I’ll see what memories return as I reminisce about my very early and very hard to believe childhood in Dublin between 1948 and 1958.                                                                        

By 1948 with the war years behind them, my parents had built up a nice comfortable home for us in Aston-Birmingham and now the future looked very bright indeed.   My parents had decided to return to Dublin in nineteen forty eight, where four more children, (Billy 1950 - Dermot 1952 - John 1953 - Patricia 1956) were born, they all later returned to England in nineteen fifty eight, where two more boys would be born, Charley 1959 and David 1965.                                                                                                                           

But by now everything was starting to change in Birmingham, Mam and Dads friends and relatives were all moving on, Dads relative and close friend Peter Tiernan’s dad George had returned from the war in one piece and the Tiernan family sold up and moved to another more prosperous area just outside Birmingham, Mams sister Josephine, always known to all the family and friends as “Owie” and husband Jack decided to return to Dublin.  So Mam and Dad’s friends and close family were no longer around.                                                                                                                      

Dad had become a Painter and Decorator since the end of the war and work was plentiful, he was putting down roots and wanted to stay in Birmingham, but Mam wanted to return to Dublin as she was missing her mother and father, her brother John and her remaining sisters who still lived there in the Irish republic.     

So Dad had no choice, he sold up, packed up and moved the family across the Irish sea to Dublin.  That move with the benefit of hindsight was to be the biggest mistake of their lives, what really happened after a couple of years of arriving in the emerald Isle was years of uncertainty, unemployment and poverty a struggle for all the unemployed working class people that today would never be believed.

Realistically looking back my parents should have remained in Birmingham after the war, our lives would have been so different, but it wasn’t meant to be, and anyway I believe everything happens for a reason. As time moved on throughout the early fifties in those now long gone early years in Dublin brother Ronnie and I would be involved in many incidences and youthful adventures (some almost lethal) to last a dozen kids a lifetime.

With five more brothers and one sister still to come along, four to be born in Dublin and two more siblings in Chester-England, there would be many more adventures for years to come. 

Through the good times in the early fifties and later the very bad and worrying times in the mid fifties, and then the terrible poverty, hardship and frightening times of the late fifties for many, many families.

I lived through this decade from the age of three to thirteen with my very tough and strong minded younger brothers in the corporation housing estates within the city of Dublin.                                                                                                   My parents on arrival back in England would live out the rest of their lives with eight healthy and fit children, with the exception of David the youngest family member who was to die tragically in a car accident in 1991 at the very early age of just 26.

He would never see his beautiful as yet unborn daughter Ashton, or she her very handsome dad, his life ended just outside St Theresa’s Catholic Church on Blacon Avenue in Chester in a horrendous car accident, the area where most of the family were living at that time.

It always played on my mind that none of my younger brothers or my sister ever knew anything about our early life in Dublin or for that matter very little about our first Chester home on Crane Street.   Well here we go then, and I hope as I type away my memories return from so long ago.

Dad moved from Dublin and crossed the Irish Sea to England and settled in Birmingham with his cousin and good friend Peter Tiernan in about 1940 and lodged with Peters Mam and Dad at Railway Terrace on Dudley Road, Aston.  Peter and Dad got a job with the Dunlop tyre factory and they would remain there for the duration of the war.                                                                   

Mam followed Dad over in 1942 I think, and lived with her sister Owie and her husband Jack Scully in the area of Spark hill. Mam found employment with “Guest Keen & Nettle Folds” munitions Factory, and would also remain there until the end of the war.  

Mam also got a second job as a bus conductress in the evenings, but the buses were constantly being cancelled without notice due to the war situation, so all the clippies rotas would be cancelled, so, no rotas no pay, so Mam got another evening job in what was then called the international cafe, she remained there until the end of the war also.

Mam said that she and dad had worked such long hours every day that by the end the war they had actually worked the equivalent of about fourteen years or more between them, but they were fit and healthy young teenagers and everyone else was in the same boat, all work, little pay and very little play time.                                                                      

It was nothing Mam told me with tears in her eyes compared to the death and destruction around them every day and the thought of all those soldiers that never came home and the family lives destroyed; it took years to come to terms with it all.                                                                                 

We felt blessed to have worked in the munitions factories she said; whatever wages we earned gave us the chance in spite of everything to save something towards our future wedding in 1944.                                                                                             

Eventually Mam and Dad married in 1944 in Birmingham catholic cathedral and moved into their first home together, a flat, on Dudley road for a couple of months then moved into a house on Brace-bridge road, Aston and lived there until 1948.

Thinking about it now it seemed that, every time my parents moved home another child was born, had they become gypsy travellers moving from one place to another I dread to think just how many children may have been born and added to the Fennell clan.

It was in this past Irish environment that all my earliest memories are based, 1948 through to 1958, but to Ronnie and I and our younger siblings eventually returning to England in 1958 was like returning to another world.

But before that return trip we had several years of hardship and poverty situations that was like living in the dark ages at times, so to start my story we will have to go back to 1948 to my Grandparents home in Maryland for my earliest memories in the City of Dublin.                                                                  

I hope you the reader can read this autobiography of “Childhood Memories” with an open mind and enjoy it, as everything in it is based on fact and actually happened, one way or another, and told from a young boy’s perspective of my then life and the seemingly endless adventures of fun and constant excitement with my younger brothers.


J A Fennell – 2012