The British Library

Patrick’s Story

I always thought my grandfather emigrated to the UK from Ireland in 1898, but the two nations were one at that time. Despite this I’ve always considered myself as the grandson of someone who experienced significant upheaval at a young age.

Patrick, my namesake, was only 12 years old when he left Ireland. The eldest son of a strip farmer from County Mayo, only separated by 16 years from his father, born out of wedlock, his prospects were limited. Family legend suggests he ran away with the rent money and took a passage from Dublin to Heysham in Lancashire. The facts show him to be absent from the 1901 UK census, a police constable on the 1911 census and a Grenadier Guard by the end of the First World War. He returned to police work after the war and in later life suffered from dementia before much was known on the subject. He died in 1964.

He never went back, never spoke of his Irish past but raised six children with Louise, the youngest of whom was my father.

I’m British and cannot imagine the circumstances that might make you leave your motherland. I hope I have some empathy with migrants, immigrants, exiles, the persecuted, unloved, unwanted and unknown. I hope to have a fraction of their resilience, strength of character and determination. And I hope my children never have to draw on those qualities to sustain their own futures.

- Patrick, Buxton

© Yinka Shonibare, 2018 | Website by Hanna Sorrell