Sharon Crooks neé Mulrooney (Galway City to London, England)
Sharon Crooks neé Mulrooney
Having left Galway for employment opportunities in the 1980, it took Sharon Mulrooney a number of years to realise that London had become her new ‘home’. Following a brief struggle with her notion of personal identity she has now come to a sense of contentedness with her ‘dual identity’. Married to Colin and with two children, Conor and Aoife, Sharon is a successful author and also works in the area of mediation and conflict resolution.
Name: Sharon Crooks neé Mulrooney
Now living in: London, England
From: Galway City
Having left Galway for employment opportunities in the 1980, it took Sharon Mulrooney a number of years to realise that London had become her new ‘home’. Following a brief struggle with her notion of personal identity she has now come to a sense of contentedness with her ‘dual identity’. Married to Colin and with two children, Conor and Aoife, Sharon is a successful author and also works in the area of mediation and conflict resolution
I was an economic migrant before it became a pejorative term. I had fallen in love with London during my industrial placement from the RTC in 1985; it happened when I was dragging a huge suitcase along the footpath in West Kensington, with the Live Aid concert blaring from stereos and ghetto blasters on every balcony and windowsill, the sun shining through dappled leaves and a year of adventure ahead of me. My Mammy had put me on the National Express coach in Eyre Square and my cousin Deirdre met me at Victoria Coach station about 24 hours later. Working in the Gloucester Hotel, I met people from all around the world, discovered a fascination with Arabic and Egyptian culture which is still with me today, and most significantly, realised that ‘Personnel’ or HR as we call it nowadays, was the profession I wanted to pursue.
Hilton hotels recruited me on the ‘milkround’ during the final year of my degree and in 1987, off I went to join the Kensington Hilton as the Personnel Co-ordinator. It was well before the days of hopping on a Ryanair flight for £30 and although it wasn’t as far away as the States or Australia, where lots of my classmates had gone, and we had no time difference, it felt a long way away, and my weekly call home with a stack of fifty pence coins in the red telephone box on the corner was a precious ritual. I had to save every penny to fly home at Easter, in the summer and at Christmas and for ten years I didn’t go on holiday anywhere else. My father’s experience of working in London in the 1950’s prompted him to tell me to ‘always hold on to the strap of your handbag, and don’t live in Kilburn. If you’re going to live in another country you should make the most of it and don’t hang around with people crying into their pints.’ I took his advice so literally it took me a few years to make friends with other Irish people, but luckily I still have them as close friends!
We had moved around a lot when we were younger, and the family only settled in Galway the year I was doing my Leaving Cert – at the time I was devastated to be uprooted from my friends in Dundalk, but now I’m very glad that Galway is the place where I still come home four or five times a year. The moving around taught me how to connect with people and build rapport, which has been a huge asset in my HR career – I progressed from the Hilton to Sony Music and then Diageo, and had a wild time in my twenties, going to concerts at Wembley, getting lots of free CDs and forming some long abiding friendships with people I still see regularly. I was charged with introducing paper recycling to the office in 1994 and found my future husband Colin in the Golden Pages – he came to do some presentations about saving the Canadian Redwoods and I was smitten!
Over here they call it the Yellow Pages, they’ve never heard of red lemonade, and if you ask for a glass of Guinness in a pub, you’ll get a pint. My children laugh at the way I say yoghurt, and scone, and bath – how did that happen? I spent years scrutinising families on planes going over and back, listening out for names, wondering what it must be like to have kids with English accents, wondering which of the parents was English, were they both Irish, or were they, worst of all, ‘Plastic Paddies’ calling themselves Irish when they were born and bred in London? Even with all those long held prejudices, it was only when I was listening to my children Conor and Aoife chatting in the queue in the post office in Eglington Street one time we were home that I realised they had London accents!
I used to have an identity crisis at least twice a year; either when we were in Galway, wondering why I had ever left, or in London, knowing that it was home for my children in the same way as Galway is home for me. I’m not a fan of milestone birthdays, but a couple of years ago I was feeling the urge to have a party and hit on the idea that I could celebrate 30 years in London and I started making a list of people to invite. It was a great feeling to have a big long list, and then I realised that most of the names were people I’ve met over here – of course they are; it hit me that I’ve lived longer in London than I did in Ireland and it sent me into a bit of a spin. It took a while to process the idea that I have moved into a new category – I’m not someone who is just away for a while, and will come back some day, but someone who has settled elsewhere.
A few weeks later I was sitting on the sea wall of Bearna pier watching the seagulls with my usual conflicted feelings when I had a very liberating idea – that I could count myself as both a Galway girl and a Londoner, and that they didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. So it’s on that basis that I am embracing and celebrating being part of the Galway Diaspora.
During my ‘time away’ I’ve enjoyed a corporate and freelance HR career, written three novels published by Poolbeg, a ‘Dummies guide to HR’ published by Wiley, and I’ve self-published a historical novel based on my Grandfather’s life, ‘A Fine Young Man,’ available in Charlie Byrne’s and Kenny’s. My maternal grandfather was the Chief Superintendent of the Gardaí in Galway for 30 years and the Macmanus family was well known. I had a lovely experience in late 2018 when I launched the book and invited friends from London – we did a historical walking tour of Galway, ate chowder in The Quays and drank Guinness in the King’s Head and I was so proud of my home place – I looked at it through different eyes and saw the sense of humour, the warmth and the quirkiness that makes Galway special.
One strange moment on the walking tour occurred in St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church – I had never set foot in it when I lived in Galway and just knew the Cromwell anecdotes that we all trot out on a regular basis. Another journey I’ve taken while I’ve been away is one of faith – I stopped going to Mass when I was 22 for lots of complicated reasons. Ten years later, as I watched the London fireworks for the new Millennium from our local park, a group of people carrying candles and singing hymns came out of the church that’s three doors down from our house. They were so joyful and so connected that I felt this huge longing to be part of them, and in the new year I started going to the church – it’s an Anglican church and I’ve been going ever since. That was another identity crisis – a friend from Fermanagh asked what my parents thought of me turning Protestant – weirdly I hadn’t really thought of it that way because in the UK you describe yourself as a Christian, and then if anyone is interested you might talk about the denomination. A part of me was delighted that I had escaped our Irish need to put ourselves in the sectarian box that is almost as compelling as the English need to put people in a social class box. Another part of me was sad that the label seemed more important than my renewed relationship with God. When I stood in St Nicholas’s Church I realised that it would technically be my church now if I came home to Galway, and just couldn’t imagine it – even as Ireland shifts towards a new identity as a more secular society, for my generation there is a huge part of our personal identity that is tied up with religion, even if it’s in the rejection of it.
I still squash a multi-pack of Tayto into my bag at the airport every time I come home, and was delighted the other day when my daughter Aoife indignantly reported ‘fake Tayto’s’ being sold in the local pub in South East London – her outrage reassured me of her sense of Irishness, even if she wasn’t sure how to answer the question about citizenship on her university application form. Conor and Aoife have Irish passports because way back in 1999 when Conor was born, Colin and I agreed that as Irish citizens, our children would be welcome everywhere in the world, and although nationality is important, we wanted to raise them as global citizens. We’re bracing ourselves for joining different queues in airports when we travel as a family post-Brexit and that hurts all over again – the identity crisis always raises its ugly head when the system highlights our differences instead of our connections.
Colin proposed to me on the edge of the Red Sea in Jordan in 1995, after an amazing 3 week backpacking trip through the places in Syria that are now famous because they’ve been destroyed. We met the most amazing, gentle, hospitable people there, as we have also in Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Turkey over the years. In 2014 we learned how to scuba dive as a family and our first dive was in Aqaba, close to the place where we got engaged. When the children saw on a map where Jordan sat, in between all those places at war, they were shocked, but we reassured them and after two weeks in that amazing country, we had seen fewer guns and police there than we had in Heathrow Airport. We stayed in a Bedouin village and slept on the sand in the desert, staring up at the stars from a new angle, and woke up to the most profound silence and sense of peace I have ever experienced.
In the last few years I’ve trained as a Mediator and Restorative Justice tutor. I volunteer in Brixton Prison running a victim awareness course, as well as offering mediation to neighbours who are in dispute about noise, rubbish, broken fences and all the other things neighbours do to annoy each other. It never ceases to amaze me what misunderstandings and misconceptions can lie behind the ferocious anger people feel about each other. When you get them talking, small concessions, apologies and promises to try harder can transform the situation. I also do workplace and commercial mediations. Bizarrely, I get a buzz out of helping people to resolve conflict, especially when they come from different cultures and I can act as a kind of translator of their world view to each other. With a nest about to be empty, I am looking for opportunities to explore peace-making in other contexts, and Colin and I are looking forward to some adventurous travelling while we are still fit enough to carry rucksacks!
Instead of being conflicted by it, I am now embracing my sense of being both an emigrant and an immigrant – it’s a privilege to have two places to call home.