Importance of having a sense of belongingSeptember 21, 2012 - 7:00am
It shouldn’t be a surprise that writer and one-time actor Felicity Hayes-McCoy should have written a book about the nature of belonging and the importance of place in people’s lives.
Her father Gerard, who was both born and died in Eyre Square, was professor of history at UCG from 1959-1975, and tirelessly campaigned to retain the medieval fabric of Galway in the face of rapid development in the 1960s and 1970s.
But while Professor Hayes-McCoy headed up the university history department in Galway, he lived in Dublin where he had first settled after marrying his Wexford born wife May – at that time he was working in the National Museum.
When he was appointed to UCG he decided not to uproot his children, so Felicity was raised in Dublin, while her father commuted between Dublin and Galway.
“His decision was completely pragmatic,” she says, explaining that her two older sisters and brothers were at school when he was appointed, “so uprooting them didn’t seem like a good idea”.
He used his commuting time productively though, writing several history books on the Dublin-Galway train.
Like many of her generation, Felicity emigrated to London in the 1970s.
“My father’s experience is mirrored in my life now in terms of moving from Galway to Dublin, except in my case it was from Dublin to London,” she remarks.
And while Gerard Hayes-McCoy did move back to Galway, albeit in a commuting sort of way, Felicity’s return to Ireland has seen her set up house, not in Dublin, but in the West Kerry Gaeltacht.
She and her opera director husband Wilf Judd bought and renovated an old house on the Dingle Peninsula 12 years ago and they now divide their time between there and London.
Felicity will be in Galway this Friday to sign copies of The House on an Irish Hillside, and she will also be visiting NUIG, an institution with which the Hays-McCoy family retain strong links – some years ago, on behalf of the family, she donated all their late father’s papers to the college, where they are housed in the James Hardiman Library.
Felicity remembers, during the 1960s, her father talking about all the changes in Galway and the ultimate failure of the campaign to save the Lions Tower wall.
It upset him that people didn’t bother to find out about these places or to retain important heritage, she recalls.
“I can remember him getting so angry about it. From the age of 12 he’d been going around on a bike drawing old buildings and there was so much that had been preserved for so long.”
To some extent, every generation destroys what went beforehand, she says, but while change is inevitable, it’s important to create a sense of awareness and continuity.
Ireland during the Celtic Tiger lost that, she believes, and quotes the saying, “when you understand where you come from, you’ll be able to see where you are going”.
The issue of identity is one that has particularly interested Felicity in recent years, since establishing a home in West Kerry.
“It’s a place where everybody knows their roots. When they’d ask me where my roots were, I’d tell them my grandparents were from Galway and from Enniscorthy.”
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.