Peggy’s return to Cardiff in Aug 2001 after 50 years!
21 years ago this month (in Aug 2001), I accompanied my lovely mam, Peggy, back to Cardiff. She lived and worked there for over 5 years from 1946 to 1951 starting at age 16. She had come home to Ireland for good just after her 21st birthday, married my father, and started a family. Despite numerous invitations from her sisters and brothers still living there to come back and visit, she had never returned. I think that for Peggy those years of her carefree youth were so magical and so bright that she stored them away in her heart and didn’t want to risk tarnishing them in any way.
She often regaled me with stories of the mischief she got up to during those years. And she often told me stories of where she worked (as a live-in housemaid looking after three children); for a lovely young couple called Cyril and Doreen. Moreover, she remembered with fondness their kindness to her as a young Irish girl away from home for the first time.
Many times down through the years I’d offer to go back to Cardiff with her….as I too was yearning to see all those places she described so well: the leafy suburb of Llanishen on the north side of the city where she worked; the stone-built shop on the corner of her road run by the friendly Edwards family; the lakeside in nearby Roath Park where she strolled on her days off; bustling Queen Street down which she and her friends were chauffeur-driven by Sam the Chauffeur (who worked next door for the same family as her English friend, Doris); the bridge over the brook where she smoked woodbines with her sister Ally …. and Annie and Mary Boland (two girls from home). Peggy’s stories made them all come alive for me. So, in the summer of 2001, I offered to bring her back to Cardiff on the 50th anniversary of her leaving. To my surprise, this time she agreed!
She would finally get the chance to see the homes that her sisters and brothers had made for themselves over there. Down through the years, 12 of the Gough family had lived in Cardiff at one time or another but by August 2001 only 6 were still living there. Most came home to Co. Waterford every summer which we so looked forward to as children getting to meet our cousins. Now, it would be wonderful to meet them and their families over in Cardiff for the first time.
I also got to thinking about the family Peggy had worked for and whether it would be at all possible to meet up with them. I presumed that Cyril and Doreen would probably now have passed on as in 2001 they would have been in their mid-90’s…..but I was hoping that maybe their children or grandchildren would still be in the area. So, a month before our planned trip, I looked up the BT Telephone Directory online and was amazed to find a listing for someone in Llanishen with the same family name and the initials C.C. but at a different address. I banged off a hand-written letter (typed up above) and thought no more of it. I had a snowball’s chance in hell of a response, I thought. The following Sunday, the phone rang in my Dublin apartment and I answered it to a lady with a refined accent saying “Hello, my name is Doreen, did you write a letter looking for the family your mum worked for because that would be me and my husband Cyril. We still live in Llanishen but in a different house”.
To say I was speechless would be an understatement! We chatted for a while and arranged for Peggy and me to visit Cyril and Doreen who were 96 and 92 respectively. I hung up and rang Peggy “Guess who I’ve just been talking to?” So this week’s blog covers that memorable trip to Cardiff. Remembering today all those who have since passed away but who touched and enriched our lives in so many ways. Enjoy! ❤
Peggy, like most working-class girls of her generation in Ireland, left school after primary school. There were many mouths to feed at home so, as soon as she could, she started earning. She started as a “servant girl” for several farmers near home in Co. Waterford. Back then that role not only included cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing…..but also encompassed milking 8 to 10 cows by hand, feeding calves/pigs/chickens, collecting eggs and washing animals for sale. Hard to see any 14 year old girl doing such difficult work these days…..especially with no electricity and in some cases no running water.
So, it was no surprise that she jumped at the chance of joining her older sister, Ally, in Leeds (England), who was already working as a housemaid for a doctor’s family. As luck would have it they needed a second girl and Ally put Peggy forward. I remember Peggy telling me how long that first journey felt, first taking the cattle boat, the Great Western, from Waterford to Fishguard (Wales) …. and then the long 10 hour plus train journey northwards through England to the industrial city of Leeds. Peggy recalled that she was as “sick as a dog” with sea-sickness….and Ally offering her fresh peaches to eat on the train didn’t help 😂. Forever after the sight of fresh peaches turned Peggy nauseous. 🤢
But, Peggy loved the excitement of being in post-war Britain. Although the war (WWII) had ended in 1945 (the year before Peggy arrived), rationing was still in place and surprisingly foodstuff such as tea was often more plentiful in Ireland. So anyone arriving from Ireland with fresh produce was welcomed. That first week they went to the Irish Club in Leeds and Peggy sang “The Rose of Mooncoin” to rapturous applause. Shortly afterwards, the doctor’s family relocated from Leeds to Llanishen, Cardiff. The house was a smaller house so Peggy wasn’t needed and therefore moved to work for the neighbours directly across the road, Cyril and Doreen.
Her tasks were light housework ….but mainly to look after and play with the three children starting with getting orange juice and cod liver oil into them each morning. They also had all the mod cons of the day, brought her on family holidays to Weston-Super-Mare and gave her a full day off on Wednesdays …. with 6 weeks paid leave home in Ireland each summer. With way better working conditions than she ever had in Ireland, Peggy was in her element!
It also helped my grandparents at home as Ally collected a large portion from Peggy’s fortnightly wages and wired it home with her own contribution every two weeks. Like many Irish families at the time, the money from overseas helped rear and educate the younger ones at home. It also gave the family a foothold in Cardiff and many of the younger family members followed Ally and Peggy to Cardiff when they came of age.
Travelling back to Cardiff in 2001
So, given all that history, I was really excited as we headed to Cardiff that August of 2001 as was Peggy. On that Friday night we took the 50 minute Ryanair flight FR882 from Dublin for the short hop directly to Cardiff. We had opted to stay the six nights in the then Jurys Cardiff hotel in Mary Ann Street (no longer there) although we had been inundated with offers to stay with several of the family. It was convenient for us as it was in the centre of Cardiff next to the St. David’s Shopping Complex and less that a 15 minute walk to Cardiff Castle, Roath Park and the Millennium Stadium.
The next day was Saturday and we went first to Queen Street but of course 50 years later it was a very different place from what Peggy remembered as it had been pedestrianised in 1974. Peggy recalled spending her first pay on a baby doll nightie from M&S, admiring herself in the mirror before bed….and sending the homemade one back home….prompting my grandmother to write and admonish her for “being too grand now to wear the one I made you!”
Meeting Family Again in Cardiff in Aug 2001
It started to pour rain but luckily we were saved by Aunty Cáit who brought us to her home and a gorgeous dinner complete with apple crumble. We returned another day to meet up with Aunty Cáit’s family: Mike (Cáit’s husband RIP) and my first cousins Maria, Catherine and Susan (and Susan’s boys Conor and Corey). We had a smashing day:
Aunty Norah and her husband Eric (RIP) acted as chauffeur for the time we were there; bringing us to Roath Park for Peggy to rekindle old memories. She loved seeing the lake again. We also explored the beautiful rose gardens:
Norah also invited us to a lovely dinner at their house and we got to meet again with my first cousins Debbie and Claire with their husbands Paul and Dave and Debbie’s children, Stephen and Rachel.
Norah also brought us to see my Uncle Johnny (RIP) at his home who had a spread of sandwiches and cakes laid out for us. Johnny was a year younger than Ally and a year older than Peggy and was one of the first to also emigrate to Cardiff after Ally and Peggy:
We also visited my Aunty Mary (RIP) at her home and had a lovely time there. We had all arranged to meet up later for a drink with my Uncle Danny (RIP) and his wife Breda and we had a great night of chat and laughter.
Seeing the sights in Cardiff - Aug 2001
On one of the days we did a Cardiff City Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour accompanied by Aunty Norah. It was amazing for Peggy to see all the buildings she remembered again: Cardiff City Hall and the National Museum and also the newer buildings which we visited down in the refurbished docklands such as Techniquest.
Cardiff is a fantastic place to visit, with so many things to see! 3 stops you must hop off at are Cardiff Castle, the National Museum of Wales, and Cardiff Bay. Cardiff Castle is found at bus stop 1, and is one of Wales's leading heritage attractions and a site of international significance. At the second bus stop, you have the chance to check out the National Museum of Wales. And then the wonderful Cardiff Bay is at bus stop 5 - a local favourite, and with good reason - with great views of the water.
Above: Just a few of the sights we saw in Cardiff - Aug2001
I loved hearing about the history of Cardiff and was amazed to hear that in its heyday around 1913 nearly 11 million tonnes of coal was exported annually from there! I also loved seeing Tiger Bay as one of my favourite singers, Dame Shirley Bassey, comes from there. Here she is singing “The Girl from Tiger Bay”:
Bringing Peggy Back to Llanishen - Aug 2001
The evening before we were due to meet Cyril and Doreen, Aunty Norah drove us up to Llanishen to rekindle more memories. Peggy got to show me the shop on Station Road which had been run by the Edwards…..and the best part was we found the house where she used to work 50 years previously and took a photo of her standing in the front driveway. (Cyril and Doreen later told us that they had downsized a few years previously and sold the house to an Irish couple from Dublin):
We drove down to the bridge where she and her friends smoked the illicit woodbines! And Peggy showed me the house across the road where her sister, Ally, used to work:
Meeting Cyril & Doreen Again After 50 Years!
On the following day, we went to visit Cyril and Doreen armed with flowers and gifts. My heart was in my mouth as we rang the doorbell….”What if they weren’t as nice as Peggy remembered? What if they didn’t remember her?” I needn’t have worried. From the moment they opened the door together, I could see exactly why Peggy loved them.
They were such a warm and friendly couple. They recognised each other immediately even though 50 years had passed! We got to see Cyril’s wonderful garden …. Peggy had always told me he was a keen gardener. We also sat and chatted for hours, ate cucumber sandwiches and drank G&T’s in the garden while Peggy reminisced with them both about the years she had spent with them. The afternoon flew by and soon we were exchanging phone numbers and addresses and hugs and kisses.
Above: Video clip of the reunion of Peggy, Cyril & Doreen - Cardiff, Aug 2001
I was so happy that Peggy got to do what she always wanted to do and that was to thank them for their overwhelming kindness to the young girl she had been. They in turn were delighted to finally find out “Whatever happened to ’Our Peggy’?” …… and also thank her in person for the great help she gave them …. especially with rearing their children. We even got to speak to their daughter, Pamela, over the phone who unfortunately couldn’t meet us as she was attending a Graduation….but she remembered Peggy clearly which was lovely. I was so happy to have been able to bring them together. All three (Peggy, Cyril and Doreen) have since passed away but are fondly remembered.
Tracking Down Doris, Peggy's Best Friend in Cardiff 50 Year's Ago!
We finished up by tracking down Doris, Peggy’s best friend in Cardiff 50 years ago…..and we went to visit her. Peggy was delighted to see her again. Doris had recently had a leg amputated so we didn’t stay too long in case we tired her, but Peggy and herself spent a lovely time recalling their teenage escapades:
So, needless to say our trip was emotional for Peggy but we both thoroughly enjoyed our 2001 trip to Cardiff! ❤❤
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 84
Number 47 - Giving Back
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been to Cardiff? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!