By Grainne McCool @grainnemccool
I am a mum-of-three who brought her family up on a council estate in Donegal – and I am writing about this today in the hope of smashing down social barriers that still exist in Ireland in 2016.
Every day I wake up and thank God for my family and for our comfortable home. That home which happens to be bang in the middle of a council estate.
My husband and I moved to our present home when our two eldest boys were just 4 and 1.
We had moved back home to Donegal after a number of years living away.
But for want of a better word, after our journeys, we were broke. We didn’t have jobs when we moved back to Donegal and we were forced to rent, because we had, like so many young people today, who have emigrated, spent all our savings.
Travel had offered us excitement and life experience. Such a feeling you can’t experience unless you actually leave the armchair to travel.
But when we returned home with very little money and only our dreams in our pockets, there was no way we were in a position to buy a house.
Instead as the fantasy of owning my own home evaporated, we were placed on a waiting list for a new council house.
Luck was on our side and in 1995 we were allocated a new three-bed house in the village of Muff.
We moved into our family home in October 1995 and life took a turn which I wasn’t expecting.
I was a country girl and had been raised in a modest four-bed bungalow out in the middle of nowhere.
I had no understanding of life on a council estate but I expected moving into this new home could only bring joy and happiness…right? Wrong!
The house did offer us a very comfortable place to live. It was warm, clean and spacious.
As a family, we had been presented a golden opportunity – to settle and begin to create a home for our family.
However this gift of bricks and mortar also brought us a very unwelcome guest – social segregation.
Living on a council estate seemed to give others the right to judge you by default. Or so this irritating minority seemed to think.
Fortunately my husband and I both came from strong, independent backgrounds and were well educated – but such tiny details didn’t matter to some.
Knowing that fact is what enabled me to clutch on to my own confidence and self-esteem to get through many times when I was made feel smaller than some who lived outside my estate.
Some of the people who targeted me with their prejudice and ignorance, lived in large, fancy houses. But for all their material goods – it was clear, they probably didn’t have a basic understanding of integrity.
While the neighbours I lived with on the council estate, soon became friends and they were good, honest and polite people.
There was a mutual respect shared by everyone in the neighbourhood.
That’s not to say there weren’t arguments among neighbours. There were neighbourly disputes on many occasions, but those are all long forgotten and put to rest. Doesn’t everyone fall out now and again?
I’m aware of people in neighbouring villages and towns who don’t speak to their neighbour over silly issues. But of course some sections of society will never talk about them. They don’t live on a council estate, you see.
I know of families who don’t speak to each other, but they don’t live on a council estate either, so that’s okay too.
We were in our new home a few years when our youngest son was born. It was when this boy started school that I really felt the brunt of what it meant to be from a council estate.
The boy was in junior infants. He and a friend got in trouble one day in school and we, his parents, were sent for.
We went along to the school and apologised on our son’s behalf, assuring the teacher that he would be punished at home and for her to carry out whatever punishment she felt necessary within school.
The boy accepted his wrongdoing and apologised for his actions. The other boy involved was also called to the school alongside his parents.
A short while later, the teacher told me the other boy’s parents blamed my son, labelling him the ringleader.
‘What do you expect coming from a council estate?’ were the words uttered from their mouths as they protested their boy’s innocence and dragged my son’s name through the mud.
Those words always stuck with me. They hit me hard.
I can honestly say that everyone on my estate says hello and welcome’s each other on a daily basis.
I still live in that same house, with the same neighbours and unfortunately still with some of the same prejudice.
My husband and I bought our house many years ago. At one time we contemplated selling up and moving out. We could buy in another estate in the village, we would say, or we could build a nice home in the country. But after thinking about it, we decided to stay where we were.
There are neighbours all round us. Friends we can call if something is wrong. We can call in the middle of the night if we need something. And I’m pretty sure I can call first thing in the morning if I need a drop of milk.
Many of my neighbours still rent their homes from the local council. Does that make me better than them because I now own my house? Most certainly not.
We are their friends and they, ours and we chose, as they did, to live here, on our estate. We all live in the same street and have made our family lives in the same vicinity.
I returned to education a few years ago and graduated with an MA in English. Since then I have gone on to set up my own business.
I teach, write, tutor and host creative writing workshops for children. Much of my work takes me round the local area, county, country and indeed sometimes further afield.
I’ve met some amazing people with my work and in recent years I met many music stars.
I’ve hung out with Eric Bell of Thin Lizzy and I’ve chatted with Bryan Adams. I’ve even had the banter with Sinead O’Connor.
As for global Trad musicians, well, I’ve lost count of those I’ve interviewed and got to know.
But at the end of all these adventures, I return home to my little abode in that council estate. The place I call home.
That estate where I am surrounded by great neighbours and a house I don’t plan on leaving any time soon.
Being a mum and raising my children on a council estate was never easy. But it made me more determined than ever to ensure my boys got every opportunity in life and were educated to the highest.
The youngest boy is preparing for his college education next year. My eldest son finished college, lived in Canada for a while and is now working here in Donegal in a career he loves.
Son number two is in his last year of college. Fortunately academic education is not the only learning that I’ve encouraged them to pursue. Perhaps the most important education they have received is that they know never to judge another person.
They know to appreciate the life they have. They appreciate that they have to work in life to succeed. They know that people deserve to be treated equally too.
Living on a council estate has taught them well. It has helped fuel their desire to excel. Living in a council estate has done them no harm whatsoever.
Word to the not so wise….never judge a book by its cover and never label a person by where they live.