Martin King (College Road, Galway City to Sydney, Australia)
Martin King’s story is an unusual one: raised in Galway city, he emigrated not only once but twice. His wanderlust first brought him and his wife first to sunny California in the late 1960s and then to far away Australia over a decade later.
Name: Martin King
Now living in: Sydney, Australia
From: College Road, Galway
Martin King’s story is an unusual one: raised in Galway city, he emigrated not only once, but twice. His wanderlust first brought him and his wife first to sunny California in the late 1960s and then to far away Australia over a decade later.
I was born in 1942 as the middle child in a family of five, three girls and two boys, and grew up on College Road. As a young boy, I was a student at the Mon before it became St. Patricks. Afterwards, I went to the Bish for five years, where I did my Leaving Cert, and from there to UCG to study Civil Engineering.
Growing Up in Galway
My memories of growing up in Galway are very enjoyable. We used to play in a large field, called Leonard’s Field which is where the G Hotel now stands. Football, hurling, Cowboys and Indians – we played for hours after our dinner and before going to bed. There were no worries for safety at all at the time and it certainly was a liberating lifestyle.
In the 1950s, College Road was the border of Galway City at the time. Suburbs like Mervue and Renmore were only slowly developing. I distinctly remember as a young boy, helping to driving cattle from Oranmore, through the city centre, and out to Newcastle with my younger brother and my granduncle. Health and safety wouldn’t allow this for all sorts of reasons these days, but at the time cattle fairs on Eyre Square were also a regular occurrence.
Our family house was very close to the shore, and in the early 50s, a storm and a high tide coincided, and the water from Lough Atalia came over our garden wall and even into the kitchen. There was so much water that one of the neighbour’s boats was swept into our backyard. We were able to boast that we were boat owners, even for the shortest of times!
In 1961, I started a university course in civil engineering in UCG. My interest in engineering was sparked I think, by my passionate teacher, Brother Aidan, at St. Pats. He used to do one hour every day of mental arithmetic with us, firing question at the 80 boys in the class, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My preference would have been to do electrical engineering but this would have meant going to Dublin, something beyond my means. It was very unusual to go into expensive third level education even in your hometown at the time. My three sisters left education after secondary school, but my younger brother, Pat, obtained an Arts degree. To be able to afford college, I went to England every summer after my Leaving Cert to work. The slog was long and hard, although there was the occasional student night out in the Hangar, where we danced until 1am but still made university in the morning. Eventually, in 1964, I graduated along with four of my Galway friends.
After university, I quickly found a job with O’Connors Consulting Engineers in Woodquay for a year and a half. Then, I moved to Dublin to work for the Kildare County Council for over a year. I met my wife through her cousin Brian Kennedy, who was well known in Galway at the time. At mass, he was telling me about his English cousin, Frances Murphy, coming over for a holiday. We would always go to Lydon’s on Shop Street for a coffee after mass and that is where I got to know Fran. At first, we had a long distance relationship for a while, travelling back and forth, before she moved to Ireland.
Emigrating to the US
In 1968, I married Frances. She is English with Irish roots as her mother was from St. Brigid Terrace (Prospect Hill) and her Dad from Dundalk. She was very attached to her family. Although, I intended to go to Sydney at the time, she did not want to leave Ireland at all. However, following a compromise we decided to go to the States instead. I managed to get a visa quickly as I had the desired qualification for the American workforce. I had though, to sign a document guaranteeing that I would definitely marry Frances to get the visa for her. Two weeks after the wedding we set off for the States. The same year, my sister Margaret got married in Australia and Pat got married in Belfast and left for Australia.
We had decided to go to California after we met a friend from there at my sister, Agnes’s wedding. He was our key contact there but we did not hear back from him until close to the time of travel, by which time we were getting a little nervous. The American engineering sector was developing rapidly at the time so I figured that it would be great experience for me. We flew from Shannon and sold our car the same day at the airport, although I did buy a brand new 1968 Mustang Mach 1 a week later for the same money I got for my second-hand Vauxhall Viva! I went for three interviews two days after we arrived and received two job offers, from which I accepted the first one as it was down the road from where we were staying. It was a real bonus to hit the ground running. I have to say we did not experience a huge culture shock, it was quiet in the area where we lived. The only unusual difference to Ireland was that everybody drove the shortest distance. There were no foot paths.
In February 1969, we bought a house in the same area where there were orange groves when we arrived four months earlier. We needed credit reference for the buy, which was easily solved by applying for two credit cards in two major department stores. We stayed for four and a half years in California and sold our house in no time before moving back to Ireland. Fortunately, I found a job straight away in 1973 at SCS in Dublin and we bought a house in Templeogue. Among other tasks, I was the project manager on the Irish Life Centre in Dublin.
Heading to Oz
In 1982, we were a bit restless and desired some change, so we eventually decided to up sticks again and this time head to Australia. Two of my siblings already lived there at the time so at least we had some family ties down under. It was a good time to take our daughters out of school and the two younger ones had no problems with the move at all. At first, we were staying with my brother, Pat. Then we rented a place about 25km outside Sydney for a year before we built our own house. We lived there for 20 years until the girls were married and we downsized to a smaller place. I have three daughters – two of them were born in America and one in Ireland – but all of them consider themselves to be Irish, though they have a bit of an Australian accent. I also have four grandchildren with Australian accents. People often comment to me that despite my years there, I never took on the Aussie twang… I suppose my Galway accent is just too genuine! I do, however, have a few expressions, like the most common one, ‘mate’.
The weather was the biggest draw to go to Australia – they have a great outdoor lifestyle. I used to play golf every Sunday morning without fail because the weather was consistently mild, similar to the Californian climate. I retired a few years ago, so I can enjoy the weather even more now. Most of our friends in Sydney are Irish, but we also have some Australian friends. However, Fran is still very connected to Ireland: in 34 years in Australia, she had made 36 trips to Ireland and England.
I do miss Galway from time to time. It has changed so much over the years compared to Dundalk and Dublin – all for the better. It still is a great city with a vibrant atmosphere, especially on Quay Street with all its lovely restaurants. Also, the quality of buskers here is much higher than on the streets of Dublin. However, the only complaint I have about my home town is the traffic.
My sister, Evelyn, still lives in our home on College Road where we stay when we visit Galway. I hardly bumped into any familiar faces during my recent stay, but I caught up with a childhood friend, John Noone, who lives out in Clifden. We met in The Huntsman to reminisce about the good old times. My wife and I also walked to Eyre Square from the house, then strolled out to Salthill and went out to Seapoint… The Prom is always a must do when you are back in Galway!
We really enjoyed seeing the sights of Galway and other areas throughout Ireland – it is lovely to look at the things through the eyes of a ‘tourist’, and we look forward to returning in 2018 for our 50th wedding anniversary.