“My mother wants me to go back, but I won’t, but I don’t tell her that.”
Martin Gallagher is the owner of Northeast Stucco Inc.
I came to this country in 1994 when I was 20 years old. I am the oldest child and only son, from a small farm in the hills of Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
My father was a contractor, farming was his side job. We raised pigs and other animals and could sell an animal if we needed pocket money. We did all our own maintenance on our farm, and my grandfather lived with us too. He taught me to do a lot. My mom was psychiatric nurse in a hospital in Omagh.
I got involved in the troubles and a bunch of my friends were shot. The violence came too close. A lot of sons were getting killed. People respected families who lost their sons defending their country, and still do. Where I lived was a war zone. The front lines moved—it was a guerrilla war. I saw friends get killed. In my town, Sixmilecross, the population was 50/50. People tolerated each other, at least until they were behind closed doors.
I went to Belfast to go to college. There was an incident in a bookshop and the Loyalists killed everyone. After that my mom made me come home. Normal life wasn’t normal, but it was what I grew up with. There would be a bomb attack and it wouldn’t even be on the news, it was so common. I lived a few miles from Omagh where there was a bomb that killed 28 people. The troubles started the year I was born. We thought we were bullet proof. All that hatred is not healthy. The police and the army were dangerous. Here the police are not going to kill us.
I had an opportunity to play football (Gaelic football) semi-pro with Kevin Barry GFC in the US for the summer of 1994. Things got worse at home and my mother thought it might be better for me to stay. A bunch of the team stayed, about twenty percent. I managed to get cash jobs and kept under the radar. Then I met a girl and that was it. We got married and had kids. Getting married enabled me to stay. It was ten years before I went back. During that time, we talked on the phone and we could Skype, but there wasn’t always coverage, and still isn’t sometimes. I have four kids 18, 14, 10, and 2. My first wife was born here; her family was all here so they helped out. My second wife is from Dublin so neither of us has family here, which makes it harder. I went to Strayer University and studied computer management and computer science. I was a student athlete so it was easier.
I started to work for myself, small jobs, and then started getting more jobs and hired more people. The guys I work with are all from Tyrone. I knew some of them back home. We stick to our own.
My first impression was the heat and the vastness of this country. It is so flat. I lived in the mountains at home. You don’t understand how pretty it is until you leave. There is a lack of stress back home. Here life is motivated by the need to get ahead and make money. In Ireland you can step back and look at a problem, if it doesn’t get done today it will get done tomorrow. Time is money here. Back home, if you go to someone’s house you have to eat, have tea. If you refuse that would be rude.
I don’t get to go fishing as much here. There was a river behind our house, and I miss that. Was it worth it? I kept out of jail and stayed alive, but I miss home. My mother wants me to go back, but I won’t, but I don’t tell her that.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.