When my mother showed me the photograph, she didn’t look like my father.
She looked like a woman I knew from another part of Ireland.
I was struck by her facial features and by her blue eyes.
“I was thinking, this woman looks like a person I know,” I told her.
“It was so beautiful,” she told me.
“That’s how I felt.”
She was born on the day of the first of the Great Irish Famine.
She was 11.
Her father, a farmer who was born in County Donegal, left Ireland in 1848.
“We were forced to move to Cork when we were a little girl, because the British took away our land,” she said.
“My mother’s mother died when I was four years old.
My father worked as a porter.
I had to go with my brothers to school.”
When I was a boy, my mother had worked in a laundry.
My brothers were schoolboys.
My mother was not very well-off.
I remember that when I first saw her, I was terrified.
She had the face of a child with polio, and her eyes were dark and teary.
But she seemed so beautiful and so beautiful, I thought.
I loved her, she said, and my mother didn’t want to let me go home.
So I spent six years in Cork and then, one year later, to Dublin, where my father was working as a doctor in a boarding house.
He lived in a room next to his parents’ bed.
My family lived a long way from here.
My parents had been together for a long time, but the divorce was finalised when I turned 15.
My dad was always the one to give me an education.
He would take me to the local schools, he said.
My school was in the small town of Drogheda.
My mum had a very difficult time in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
She struggled to make ends meet.
In those days, she was a single mother, but after I was born, she had to work two jobs.
“There were many jobs for us.
My husband would pick strawberries for me,” she recalled.
“But my father would have to take care of the house.”
In those difficult times, my father made her a lot of money, she explained.
“He’d pay me for the strawberries, and when he sold them off, he’d pocket the difference.
And he’d take all the money and put it into my savings.”
She told me about one of the most important jobs she had.
My brother and I were both working at a dairy.
One day my mother got a letter from a woman called Marie.
She said, “You’ve got to work for me.”
I think it was the first time I heard about a woman who worked for the government.
I wanted to work, she told my brother.
But I didn’t.
When I got to school I was scared.
I thought, “How can I get a job?”
I thought it would be so easy.
“When I got here,” my mother said, I told myself, you’re not going to work.
Because you’re a girl,” I said.
And I just went to school.
“What’s wrong with you?”
I asked my mother.
“You don’t work, you don’t get an education, and you’re fat.
You don’t have any clothes, and it’s cold.”
I felt so stupid, she replied.
“And then I got married.
And when I got back to work I realised I was doing the right thing.
“But then you had to look after your father,” I replied. “
Now you’re my daughter.”
“But then you had to look after your father,” I replied.
My mom said, You’ve got no idea how hard it is for a woman.
“Then you’ve got a baby, and I think you know how hard the rest of your life will be.”
“Well, I’m not going back to school,” I was telling my mother, and she said to me, “I’m not.
I’m still working.”
So I did my schoolwork.
“No, I want to work,” I thought to myself.
And that was it.
My childhood is marked by two things: the time spent on my knees at school and the time when I had no choice but to do what my mother told me to.
When my father left Ireland, he took my mother and two brothers to Australia.
I went to a boarding school in Sydney.
I worked as an accountant, working with young people in a warehouse.
In Melbourne, my sister-in-law worked as the secretary of a department store.
I lived with my mother’s father in an apartment in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.
I got a job at the supermarket as a cashier.
I used to make friends with the kids. “The