Galway Tribal Diaspora Project
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Tom Higgins (Shantalla, Galway City to Penticton, Canada)

Tom Higgins (Shantalla, Galway City to Penticton, Canada)

Events conspired so that Tom Higgins did not settle in his original destination upon arriving in Canada in 1966. Like many before him, he left home with the safety-net of the name and address of an Irish person who had set out before him. This contact proved to be his life-line.

Name: Tom Higgins

Now living in: Ontario , Canada

From: Shantalla, Galway

 

Events conspired so that Tom Higgins did not settle in his original destination upon arriving in Canada in 1966. Like many before him, he left home with the safety-net of the name and address of an Irish person who had set out before him. This contact proved to be his life-line.

My full name is Thomas Anthony Higgins and I previously lived in 13, O’Conaire Road Shantalla, Galway. I went to St Patrick’s primary school, then St Mary’s, then the ‘Tech’. My father had Fairhill Joinery Works, in the Claddagh and I worked with him after school and during summer holidays. I then worked for a house builder named McEnerney and another named Martin Hession. Both men were good to me and my brother.

My friend and I wanted to see the greener grass so we applied to the Canadian Embassy in Dublin to emigrate around 1965. We got word in June 1966 and headed off to Montreal. Things did not go so smoothly for us on arrival however. We found the French language hard to handle while the separatist group the Front de Libération de Québec (FLQ) were causing havoc with a number of bombings throughout Montreal. We also were unfortunately only a year ahead of EXPO ‘67 in Montreal and could see the site being built.

We took a train to Hamilton, Ontario where we attended mass and set about finding a construction company which someone had given us the address for. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it and began to despair, as by now we were down to our last few dollars. Noticing our plight at the train station two men gave us the advice to ‘go west young men’ so we did! Our journey took 3 days and 4 nights on the Greyhound bus until we reached Vancouver. Before leaving Galway my mother had given me an address of a school-mate of hers, living in North Vancouver. At the time I said ‘Mom, Vancouver is on the other side of Canada to where we are going’, but in the big picture it saved our bacon. Maureen O’ Neil – Bennett and her husband Bill and their two kids took us under their wings for about 6 months, which was very awesome of them. Later on they became my adopted Mom and Dad and my two son’s called them Auntie Maureen and Uncle Bill.

I worked and lived in Vancouver and it was there that I met my wife in the West End of the city. We got married in a little Anglican church there in 1972 after which we moved to an interior region of British Columbia, called Okanagan. Penticton is the small town we settled in, and where we raised our two boys who were born in 1976 and 1980. Those two guys definitely enjoyed growing up in Penticton. We have a small lake to the south of town about 10 miles long) and another lake on the north of town about 60 miles long. The town has a population of only 25,000 people in winter but about 100,000 in the summer. Grapes grow great here and we have great snow skiing in winter. It is very beautiful as is Galway, Connemara and Clare.

I always love to go home to Galway. In 2012 I brought my kids, wife, and grandkids (who are truly proud to be Irish) home to Galway. More recently I returned for a sadder occasion when my Aunt Kitty Barrett (Queen of the Claddagh) died. I had four brothers and one sister, who lives in England. My youngest brother, Paul Higgins, who died quite a while back, was well known in Galway city and was a great brother to be around. Paul was an amazing man who lost his sight at about 18 or 19 years of age but lived to the age of 44 with a normal and positive attitude. He was a great spokesman for the blind, His wife, whose maiden was Finnerty, still lives in the Claddagh. She is a beautiful person and was Paul’s eyes.

As for myself, I am happy to be around at 68 years old. My health is good (I hope) and my kids and grandkids are awesome. I taught my two boys to snow ski and now I’m almost done teaching my two grandkids, Kolby and Maya (12 and 6) and will hopefully get the chance to teach my new 3 month old baby grandson Tommy.