After I left school in 1962 aged 13 I got a job in Danny Fitzpatrick's at Town View Navan. Danny was a furniture manufacturer. At 16 I started work in Navan Carpets as a Bankboy to Oliver Plunket. About three years later I moved to London.
I found London to be a very exciting and cosmopolitan city. It could be very strange too at times for a 19 year old coming from a small town in Ireland where everyone knew everyone else.
As I had left school at the tender age of thirteen, I ended up doing mostly manual work on building sites. It was at this type of work that I met many foreign nationals. At first I found it difficult to communicate with some of them. But through our work, I got to know and understand them pretty well. Soon I came to realize, that we had much in common. They had the same fears and concerns for the future as I had. Some of them had fled their homeland because of tyrrany and would never be able to return home. They might never see their families or friends again. It was much different for me I left home out of a spirit of adventure and could return at the drop of a hat. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like never to be able to return home.
I returned in the early 1970s and fell in love with local woman Josephine Walsh. We got married on 27th October, 1973 and settled down. We have three sons: Michael, Paul and Austin and our first grandchild Amelia was born 23rd May 2007 in Poland.
Since returning from London I have travelled to: Bulgaria, Gran Canaria, Italy, the Isle of Man, Tunizia, Turkey, Croatia, Australia, Poland and I have visited Our Lady's Shrine in Medjugorje in Southwest Yugoslavia on a number of occasions. I have also returned to London a number of times.
On one trip to London, in the company of Enda and Jim Nugent, two stalwarts of St. Mary's Musical Society Navan, we attended a showing of the musical Miss Saigon, in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Miss Saigon is a brilliant musical. It tells the story of a young American GI whose life was instantly transformed by meeting a young Asian bargirl during the crucial last three weeks before the fall of Saigon. There was one poignant scene when the last helicopter was leaving and people were pleading to be allowed out. It reminded me of the terrifying scenes I had seen live on television years earlier.
Now when I see the ever increasing numbers of foreign nationals entering our shores, I am reminded of that scene in Miss Saigon and I can't help but wonder what kind of horrors are some of them fleeing from. Their treatment on arrival cand be a cause of grave concern. Already there have been reports of a small number of racial attacks.
Racism begins with hatred especially amoung the youths, who are not properly informed, or who simply lack experience of life. As people get older they become more aware of the plight of others. Children should be educated to be more accepting of people with different nationalities and cultures. Throughout the world there are many religous and ethnic differences. God created all human beings equal, regardless of colour or creed. We must not forget that Jesus was once a refugee, fleeing from Herod.
In Ireland we have had our own share of upheavals. We suffered a terrible famine, which caused countless numbers of deaths and over a million people left the country in search of a better life. The Irish people are to be found in every corner of the globe. Former President Mary Robinson put a figure of seventy million on it. We were occupied by a foreign power for hundreds of years, who maintained their presence by force of arms. As a result of this, we had many uprisings, in which many people died on both sides. With this in mind and knowing that we as a small nation can not afford to accommodate everyone who comes to our shores, we should however give priority to those who would suffer torture or even death for their beliefs should they be returned.
Those who are allowed to stay will no doubt in time play their part in the future of the nation just like millions of Irish people have done throughout the world. In time they might even become more Irish than the Irish themselves.
Michael " The Sheriff " Sheils