The Bowen Brothers
In the early 1950s, the Bowen brothers, Harry and Dick, left Westmeath and came to London – one after the other.
As part of The Irish Post’s Photo series Harry’s daughter Nicola tells her dad’s story of when he first came to London.
The Bowen Brothers, Dick, left, and Harry, right, first came to London in the early 1950s. (Picture: Nicola Bowen)
“In the army, dad drove American soldiers to and from airbases in Ireland, then, after five years’ service, he followed Dick to London around 1952 and worked on the roads first before he started with gasworks.
Eventually he got a job with J Murphy’s in Kensal Green where he stayed for many years.
Dick went to Australia in the late 1950s on a £10 ticket, where he met another Irishman and worked in civil engineering for many years and still lives there today.
Harry, however, remained in London where he would go on to marry a Mayo woman, and raise a family in north-west London.
It was quite hard for them, working and taking all kinds of jobs but they had a good rapport, as there were so many Irish people they knew in the same area and they shared rooms with.
I remember dad saying in the pub one night there were seven sets of brothers from Moate, including the Slevins, Flanagans, O’Briens and Prices.
While they adapted well socially in Britain, they faced a lot of prejudices as well as I know my mum said there would be signs on let properties saying, ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’.
It couldn’t have been easy for them, but I think the Irish just got on with things and worked hard. That did all the talking for them.
The backgrounds that they came from were quite poor, they worked to support their families in Ireland, so it was quite hard for them to live here while sending any money they had, home.
Dad was the second eldest of seven children and his father was a carpenter, his mother a housewife.
I remember my aunt saying that my dad went back home before he married and she was so pleased because he had left money and her mother was able to buy a lovely pair of shoes for her.
A number of years after moving to Britain, Harry met his future wife, Mayo-born Mary Burke in a dancehall in west London.
They met in the Innis Free on Ealing Broadway, where a lot of the Irish community met their future wife or husband.
They were introduced by a woman who my mother was sharing a room with. This lady was seeing a man called Jack, who was my dad’s next door neighbour from Moate.”
Harry and Mary married in 1966, and raised their family in Greenford, staying close to the Irish community.
We grew up in quite an Irish area in Greenford, where a lot of the kids we went to school with were second generation Irish.
We were reminded of our heritage a lot and my mother even said we used to speak with Irish accents before we went to school, as did a lot of kids because of our Irish parents.
Dad even painted the house green, with an orange door, and white windowsills – and we had a green car as well.
Harry Bowen passed away in 1999 aged 64 from bowel cancer.
A couple of years before he died, Nicola said. “He started to write on the back of photos – and if he hadn’t have done that, we would never have known who was who.”
From left to right, Harry Bowen, John O’Brien, Joe Dunne, Pat Carroll, Noel Price, Pat Gorman and Billy McHugh in the Swan, West Drayton.