Denis and Mena Hayes will celebrate their 80th birthdays this summer and they are two of the longest-serving Pioneers living in Shannon.
Both of them joined the pioneers as teenagers and haven’t looked back.
The couple met up at St Charles’ Dance Hall in Birmingham and managed to avoid the pitfalls that so many Irish emigrants have encountered in Britain.
“I knew one man who went over. He was a lovely fella but he lost his job through drinking. He was a smart fella too. Another who was from my homeplace ended up sleeping on park benches and that was because of drink too,” said Denis.
There was no way he was going to go down that path. “When I started something I stuck to it. It [drinking] never crossed my mind. I’d go into the pub with the mates and I’d get a mineral. I’d always test it and if I thought there had been anything put into that minerals I’d leave it. I’d say nothing but I’d leave it.”
While Mena spent years in Britain, her family hadn’t given her much chance of lasting long there. “I went over with a girl from home and they were saying that we’d only last a week! That’s all they thought we’d be gone. But then we got jobs.”
The couple married and had children in England but felt the quality of family life there couldn’t match that in Ireland. “I was working in a factory and there was redundancy going. At that time in Birmingham, things were getting a bit rough. The thing that’d worry me was my kids.”
They ended up in Shannon, shortly afterwards and have been there for the past 33 years. Denis is of the view that the drink culture in Ireland has a strong hold now and that it has become a bigger problem. “Look at the television, what you see on the streets of Dublin. People waltzing down the streets, girls falling down stairs, it’s terrible. I don’t know why more people aren’t put off drink from seeing that. It’s definitely getting worse.”
Mena feels that people may be inclined to begin drinking at too young an age. “I’d be afraid of the young ones drinking too soon. There are young people drinking at 16 and I’d be worried about them.”
She felt that being a member of the Pioneers made being abstemious easier. “You never felt that you had to go in with a crowd and have a drink.”