• Immigrant Interview: James Mayne!

  • Interview of Jim Mayne — June 13th, 1939
    Sailor Town, County Down,
    Belfast, Ireland

    Attendees: Marie Lawless, John Lawless, Bernard Keilty, Sheila Johnson, Nancy Smith, Maureen Richitelli and Amy Lacey

  • Interviewer: Good evening, Jim! Where were you born and when?

    Jim Mayne: I was born in Belfast on June 13th, 1939.

    Interviewer: Were you born in an urban, suburban, or rural place?

    Jim Mayne: We lived in a city, downtown, in row houses that we rented. We were right down by the docks so it was called Sailor Town. You could look over and see where the Titanic was built!

    Interviewer: How many children in your family?

    Jim Mayne: I had three sisters and myself and my mother. I was the baby. I was only six months old when my father was drowned during the war. I really don’t know much about him.

    Interviewer: How did he die?

    Jim Mayne: He was in the British Navy when he drowned. His name was also James.

    Interviewer: How did your family make a living? It must have been hard after your father passed.

    Jim Mayne: Mom received a widow’s pension and also cleaned offices in some of the big warehouses. Sometimes we had to go with her. We used to get up and go at 6 o’clock in the morning. We walked to the warehouses because very few people had cars back then. We had no car, so we walked there.

    Interviewer: What type of community did you live in? What was the religious life like?

    Jim Mayne: In Belfast back then certain streets were for Catholics and certain others were for Protestants. I found out later, from my family, that my ancestors were McIlroy and somewhere down the line there was a McRory. On our street, my mother, her sister, and her other sister all rented — on the same street. There were 6 more cousins living on the street, too.

    Interviewer: What sports did you play?

    im Mayne: I played a form of soccer called Gaelic football. At that time, all the Catholic boys would get together and play Gaelic football. No girls (including my sisters) were allowed to play. My oldest sister worked in the mill. She got a job at the tobacco factory running machines making pretty good money. Made Gallagher’s blues and greens. They were strong. Most of my sisters all went to work in the mill.

    Interviewer: So, you all went out and worked?

    Jim Mayne: I did. Over there you left school at 14, though my sisters went on until they were 16 and got good jobs in the offices. I worked at the docks when I got old enough, but it wasn’t a steady job.

    Interviewer: What did you do at the docks?

    Jim Mayne: I loaded and unloaded ships as a longshoreman. It was hard work hauling things.

    Interviewer: What was music like in Belfast?

    Jim Mayne: I never played anything but my sister played a piano. We had a piano.

    Interviewer: What was the entertainment on Saturday night?

    Jim Mayne: We went to dance halls like the Plaza in Belfast to dance for 4 or 5 dollars. They used to have one or two dance halls on top even though I didn’t dance; I went to meet girls!

    Interviewer: Who did what job in your household like the grocery shopping, cooking, gardening, etc.?

    Jim Mayne: My mother always did the shopping and cooking.

    Interviewer: And yard work?

    Jim Mayne: I did anything that had to be done. Whatever my mother told me. What I had to do every year was whitewash the back yard and walls. We used a water and lime mixture.

    Marie Lawless: Sounds like the backyard was just like ours which had walls all around it. That’s how the backyards worked. You walked outside your porch and the backyard had three walls surrounding it, squaring it off. They were made out of brick and we painted them or whitewashed them every year.

    Interviewer: Oh, yes! When we were in Ireland, I noticed a lot of houses had walls around the yards. What schools did you attend? Do you remember the teachers? Any particular one?

    Jim Mayne: I went to Saint Malachy’s College. (Founded in 1833, St Malachy’s College is a Catholic Grammar School for boys). There were all priests there as teachers.

    John Lawless: They didn’t encourage you.

    Jim Mayne: They were tough and the nuns were tough too. I left at sixteen. They were very strict.

    Interviewer: How many hours did you go to school?

    Jim Mayne: I went from 9 to 3 pm with 20 minutes for lunch. We used to go home and go back. I would ride my bike home.

    Interviewer: What subjects did you like at school?

    Jim Mayne: There was never anything fun in the public school then.

    Interviewer: What languages did you take?

    Jim Mayne: I took French and German.

    Marie Lawless: Yes, I remember I had sewing and knitting class at school twice a week and Gaelic once a week.

    Jim Mayne: We also had St. Joseph’s boxing club. St. Joseph’s was our church. There was a priest from America – Father Flanagan – who traveled all over the world. He came to Belfast in the 50’s – came to the boxing club. We had a picture of him shaking hands with the boxers. They would set up a ring. See, during the war, they had built air raid shelters and the boys used to go in there and set up rings because nobody ever used them…so us kids used to go in. They were pretty big. Then the other parishes would come around to box. There was one from each parish. One pair of boxing gloves for each one.
    *They had his picture on the wall. Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan: priest in America that founded Boys Town in Nebraska.

    Interviewer: When did you decide to immigrate to the United States?

    Jim Mayne: My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was home from America on vacation for a month when we met. She came back here (America). About 6 months later, I decided to come to America because the unemployment was sky-high in Belfast and there was nothing there. I just decided it was time to come. And she was in San Francisco. So, we kept writing and kept in touch and I told her I was going to come to New York. She was in San Francisco and decided to come to New York, too. So, we met in New York and that’s how we got back together again. Later, we got married in New York.

    Interviewer: How did you travel here?

    Jim Mayne: I flew over.

    Interviewer: Why was your wife in Ireland when you met her?

    Jim Mayne: She was on vacation. My wife, Lottie, was born in Belfast. Her mother had ten kids and she adopted her niece because her mother couldn’t handle her. She took her when she was a baby and reared her.

    Marie Lawless: Did Lottie come to America to visit her sister?

    Jim Mayne: No, Lottie came here on her own. She moved to San Francisco and then she visited for a month when we met and she moved back to San Francisco first and then to New York. We settled in the Bronx just above the old Yankee Stadium.

    Interviewer: Did you have a hard time finding a job when you came here?

    Jim Mayne: It wasn’t that hard. I could have gotten a couple of jobs. Finally, I said to myself, “I better take something.” So, I got a job in a deli making sandwiches and serving coffee. I said, “I’m not going to stand this.” So, the next thing was we were at one of the Irish Parishes and one of the guys gave me a card and said, “Come see me on Monday.” I met him on Monday and he says, “Do you want a job as an elevator operator?” It paid $10 an hour more, so I took it. I was in there for 3 or 4 months, and I saw in the paper that UPS was hiring, so I went to UPS, and I stayed there for 32 years. When I came to Milford I used to travel back and forth to New York. It was about an hour’s drive.

    Marie Lawless: Yes, that was his big job.

    Bernard: You mentioned you went to the Irish Center there?

    Jim Mayne: There was a county association and they would tell you where to go to get a job. So, there was a big community that helped in Yonkers. The Irish Center there.

    Maureen Richitelli: Yes, they were all thick (close to each other).

    John Lawless: They all took care of each other.

    Jim Mayne: I was in New York for about 15 or 16 years. I had three kids there. Two boys and a girl. Then we moved here. We come up to see the Morgans who are still my next store neighbors. We came up here and saw the area. Lottie had always wanted to go to New Jersey. We came back a while later and Morgan said the place next door was for sale. So, one thing led to another and we bought it. I’ve been here for 40 years.

    Interviewer: So, the five of you settled there? How old were the kids?

    Jim Mayne: Karen was 7, Michael was 9, and Jim was the oldest at 12. Morgan, we knew from the Bronx. Then we moved and they moved. You must know the Morgans (said to the Lawlesses and Maureen Richitelli). He lives beside me.

    Marie Lawless: He’s a really nice man.

    Interviewer: Are your children still in Milford?

    Jim Mayne: My daughter is still in Milford. One son is in West Haven (Michael) and Jim is in Wallingford.

    Interviewer: Did you and the Lawlesses know each other in Ireland?

    Jim Maynes: No, we met here (in Milford) at some of the parties. We had good old Irish parties. We knew the O’Neils.

    Marie Lawless: We used to have house parties. I met Kathleen O’Neil at a doctor’s office who lived on Gulf Street by the beach. His name was Dr. O’Malley.

    Interviewer: Have you been back to Belfast?

    Jim Mayne: Quite a few times. The last time, unfortunately, was when my sister died. My other two sisters are still in the same area.

    Interviewer: When did you get involved in the club?

    John & Marie Lawless: They weren’t members, but they used to come with us all the time. They came to the dances with us. The original club was in Hamden. It was a Hibernian Club.

    Jim Mayne: I worked nights and I traveled back and forth so most of the time I was asleep. (haha) There wasn’t too much time to do things.

    Interviewer: What prompted you to join the Milford Irish club?

    Jim Mayne: All my friends were joining and it was close to home.

    Interviewer: Do you come down to the club these days?

    Jim Mayne & Marie Lawless: We were down on Saturday night, but we haven’t been to the meetings much.

    Jim & Marie: We’re a trio. When his wife was alive the four of us would always go to the Cracklebarrel and Duffy’s for dinner. We’d also meet at the Kimberly Inn. We like the new one now; not too bad price-wise. But we used to do this every Saturday night.

    Interviewer: It’s good you have each other.

    Jim Mayne and John Lawless: We are Knights of Columbus members, so we went every month through St. Ann’s. Although now it’s through St. Raphael’s. We went years ago to the museum in New Haven. We use to go to stuff like that at the New Haven Church, St. Mary’s. Where Father McGivney was. They’d have a mass and then something over at the Gaelic Club.

    John Lawless: They are looking to make him a saint.

    Nancy and Bernard Keilty: Father McGivney was born in Waterbury and worked in New Haven then transferred over to Thomaston. Entombed in St. Mary’s in the back. My father was an altar boy for Father Flynn and Father Flynn was an altar boy for Father McGivney.
    They put up a slab for the dedication. We thought he was buried there, but my family is all buried in St. James and we were looking for his grave. So finally, one day, my father was backing up telling me about how the knights had put a marker here somewhere, and he steps back and I looked down, and he’s standing right at the slab. There was a marker for him! He was originally there but then they took him out and buried him in St. Mary’s.

    Interviewer: What do you miss most about Ireland?

    Jim Mayne: Nothing really. I think I saw one person I knew from years ago when I went back.

    Marie Lawless: Things have changed so much and you don’t recognize anyone but for your family anymore.

    Jim Mayne: You don’t know if change is for the good. Some of it, perhaps. I don’t know.

    Interviewer: Home is where your friends and family are. Friends and family are what it’s all about.