Working Lives

Tom Garvin writes of Irish life and employment in the mid-twentieth century that while politicians and others idealised rural life and focused on the agricultural sector of the economy, 'young people were not being educated as agriculturalists, foresters, market gardeners or carpenters... They preferred to aim at white-collar employment and looked down on manual work; status seems to have been as important in many people's minds as monetary reward. In effect, education was in fact geared towards emigration from rural to urban places... Young people were being prepared tacitly for life in Dublin, Britain or America. Despite sentimental yearnings towards a rural or even Gaelic life, Irish people wanted to live in cities, thereby echoing a general trend of humanity in the twentieth century.' (News from a New Republic, p.163)

The interviews presented here in some cases follow and in others reject these trends. They represent rural and urban dwellers, farmers and shop girls, working class and white-collar occupations. This exhibit guides you through some of the themes in the interviews, including getting a first job, the types of work engaged in, and the status associated with those occupations.

Photo above: The packing department of William Power & Co. Seed Merchants at 26 O'Connell Street, Waterford, 13 November 1942 (Source: National Library of Ireland on Flickr)