Dr Mary Furey (Oranmore to Preston, England)
Dr Mary Furey
A life on the farm beckoned for Mary Furey until an unexpected death in her family altered that fate.
Name: Dr Mary Furey
Now living in: Preston, Lancashire, England
A life on the farm beckoned for Mary Furey until an unexpected death in her family altered that fate. Having completed a degree at University College in Galway, Mary took up teaching in Galway before setting off for the bright lights of London in the mid-1980s. From there, she made the move to Preston in scenic Lancashire where professionally she was able to draw on her own immigrant experience to help others, whilst also pursuing a doctoral degree.
For the past twenty-five years, Preston, Lancashire, England has been my ‘adopted’ home. Overall, my immigrant experience has been a positive one. I have a strong sense of identity and cultural heritage, which may account for the fact that I am often asked if I will ever ‘return’, ‘go home’ or ‘come back’; phrases commonly used by most immigrants, especially the Irish, to refer to that special place of origin.
I was born in Rinn, Oranmore, the only child of Rodger and Mary (neé Hanley from Cloon, Claregalway). My destiny was to continue my parents legacy of rural custodian, but the joy of growing up on a farm was interrupted by the untimely death of my father when I was 12; an event that brought significant change, including the sale of the farm and a new life in Renmore. After years of juggling full-time work and being a ‘mature’ student, I graduated from University College Galway (UCG) in 1984, with a degree in English Literature and Economics. In 1985, I completed the Higher Diploma in Education (H.Dip in Ed.) after a wonderful year teaching a class of forty-two boys in St. Patrick’s School. I left Galway a short time after; not out of necessity but more out of a sense for adventure and a desire for a new career. Like many Irish before me, I went to stay with a relation in London until I found my feet in the big city. Leaving Galway was an emotional journey; on the one hand excitement, adventure and a lot of expectation; on the other hand, a deep sense of loss for the friendships left behind.
Everyday life in London was both exciting and fearful in equal measure; there was such a buzz in the city, a lot going on, plenty of jobs and so much choice; but one also had to be mindful of the dangers of such a place; no more walking home from the dancehall like I used to do in Galway. In the early days, I missed the Irish music/pub culture, Tayto crisps and Boland’s Mikado biscuits. I was drawn to ‘Irish Pubs’ and ‘Social Clubs’ frequented mainly by other Irish immigrants when Irish bands were playing or those with an ‘Irish shop’ where foodstuffs from ‘home’ could be purchased. While looking for full time employment, I taught English to women of Asian heritage; my first introduction to those of a different faith and culture. After five years teaching in various colleges in and around London; I moved north in 1990 to take up a teaching post in Preston College.
Preston is a great location, a university city with a multi-racial community, set between a flat coastal plain and a river valley; to the north of the city is the forest of Bowland, a designated area of outstanding beauty. Prestonians are outdoor folk with a love of rambling and hill walking; they also have a healthy disregard for the inclement weather that would keep many indoors. Aspects of life in Preston are not that dissimilar to life in Galway as I knew it – lots of small farms with fields of cattle and sheep and all in close proximity to the coastline. I was not long in Preston when I discovered the joys of alpine skiing through a small club nestled on the side of Pendle Hill – an outdoor venture run entirely by volunteers. It was not long before I too was volunteering my labour and over the next twenty years did all sorts of jobs from administration to ski instructing. While I have integrated well into this multicultural community, simple things like the sunset over Preston Marina remind me of evening strolls along the ‘prom’ in Salthill.
In 1997, I moved to the nearby Blackburn College where I had secured a divisional head post in the then Faculty of Business and Management. I began to specialise in the mentoring of students who faced barriers to learning. I was able to draw on my own immigrant experience to understand the challenges faced by young people who were coming to Lancashire from overseas. With the support of the college, I completed my thesis and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) by Keele University. Although recently retired, I continue to get involved in small projects linked to education and research.
Over the past thirty years, I have made regular visits to Galway to spend time with relations and friends. I find Galway has developed and expanded on every level. The influx of UK and international high street stores; the variety of eateries and the growing multi-cultural and ethnically diverse population provides a cosmopolitan backdrop to the city. While Galway is still the place I call ‘home’, I am not sure if I will return permanently as the passing years have created strong loyalties to both Preston and Galway.