John B Keane describes emigrating to England in the 1950s and gives an insight into the hopelessness and loneliness felt by Irish emigrants at this time.
On leaving school, playwright John B Keane worked in a chemist shop and attempted to set up a newspaper ‘The Listowel Leader’. It was at this point in his life that he also met his wife to be Mary O'Connor.
And it was perhaps my hopelessness with regard to marriage that was responsible most of all for my leaving Ireland.
Like many other Irish people without prospects, he took the boat to England, leaving from Dún Laoghaire in January 1952. On the boat there was a communal feeling of community and support amongst the emigrants. Groups of men on the deck and in the bar were singing drunkenly, but with dignity.
Which leads John B Keane to sing a ballad ending with the refrain,
Oh Cricklewood oh Cricklewood, you stole my youth away, for I was young and innocent and you were old and grey.
He speaks movingly of the loneliness and humiliations of his early years as an Irish emigrant working in Northampton, Kettering and Leicester City. However his exile was not in vein as he wrote every night except for Saturday night.
At this time he was also corresponding with Mary O'Connor.
I was in love and I was learning how to write, I decided to go back to Ireland again.
He saw a job for chemist assistant in County Cork and was successful with his application. Finally, after two years in England, he was one of the lucky ones who could return to Ireland.
Neither Camden Town nor Cricklewood stole my youth away but they did steal other things alright.
‘Self Portrait : John B Keane’ was first broadcast on 24 January 1963. At this point John B Keane had experienced some success with 'Sive' and 'Sharon's Grave', but was still an outsider to the world of Irish arts and letters.