Monday, November 22, 2010

Vincent Moore's History of the Twentieth Century

[This past weekend marked what would have been my father's one hundredth birthday. Though he missed it by more than a quarter-century, the day had me thinking. Over the next several days, I plan on posting not so much his life story as a comparison of his life to that of the twentieth century.]

One: The 1910s

Martin Vincent Moore was born November 20, 1910 in a village in Cheshire, in northwestern England.(Not that anyone would have noticed the coincidence, but the same day is celebrated as the start of the Mexican Revolution.) His mother, born in nearby Liverpool and orphaned quite young, was English-born but of mostly Irish ancestry, and she worked briefly in the carding rooms of a cotton mill before her marriage. His father came to England about ten years earlier from a farm in Galway, Ireland, and became a policeman in the County Constabulary. Subsequently the family lived in a number of Cheshire communities where he was posted, particularly Sale, near Manchester. 

My father was the eldest of three sons. A child during the First World War, he left three memories of it: his mother receiving news of the death of her cousin, a private soldier; the war’s interruption of visits to the family farm in Ireland; and the death of his younger brother Wilfred at age six in the postwar epidemics. In each of these things, his experiences must have paralleled those of a million other Britons and other Europeans.

Awareness of being Roman Catholic Irish immigrants in England seems to have been strong in his family. They remained in close touch with the Irish side of the family, and my father visited there several times in his youth. He recalled that for a time his father’s work included the pursuit of IRA men who were “burning haystacks around Cheshire,” but also that his father’s career may have been impeded by his Irishness, which raised doubts about his loyalties. Divided loyalties – another common symptom of mass immigration and the rise of the nation-state in the early twentieth century.

My father’s origins, that is, match closely many of the prominent trends of early twentieth-century British, European, and world history: industrialization, new gender roles, colonialism (the cotton for those mills, the IRA), and the migration from farms to cities and from agricultural labour to paid employment. Northern England, indeed, was at the leading edge of all these trends then, and the west of Ireland a typical source of out-migrants.

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