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I Used To Be Irish

Kearns Blain's new memoir looks at growing up Irish


Angeline Kearns Blain took her first job at 13, scavenging cinders from a tenement dumpsite in post-war Dublin. At 14, she went to work in the factories. Later, she peddled ice cream at a cinema.

"There was no opportunity then. Females were all considered to be less important," she says. "All the 'boo hoo hoos,' all the cries, were about the lads leaving Ireland. They were stronger, could work in the factories, could do the heavy lifting. The lads were always favored."

The lads were definitely leaving, and leaving in droves for new lives in the boom-time of Eisenhower's America. Meanwhile, Kearns Blain didn't even have enough money to attend school.

But at the cinema, she was immersed in American westerns—what she called "bang-bangs." They gave her a vision of open space and opportunity, and an insight into American culture.

"I was trying to get out and get a new life, but how did I do that? That was the question," she says.

Kearns Blain's 2009 memoir, I Used to be Irish, tells the story of her poverty-stricken, abusive and repressive childhood, followed by the chance bus-stop meeting with an American GI that led to her flight to the United States as a penniless 18-year-old in 1957.

On Wednesday, March 17, Kearns Bain will be at Trip Taylor Bookseller signing copies of I Used To Be Irish, which picks up from her 2000 work, Stealing Sunlight: Growing up in Irishtown,

Dedicated to the Statue of Liberty, Kearns Blain said I Used to be Irish is an exploration of both her perceptions and the realities of transitioning from a powerless Irishtown girl, to a wife and mother navigating the complex and changing gender politics of America.

"It was very difficult because I was coming from a life of extreme poverty, and coming to America was entering a new world regarding class issues, gender issues, educational issues," she says. "I had to try to figure out how to put that all together and create a new life for myself."

Her journey has included a move from the East Coast to Pocatello, where she went back to school at age 40; raising three sons; and finding a 20-plus year career as an adjunct professor of sociology at Boise State University.

"I identify completely with the American values of liberty and justice and equality for all. That's my America," she says. "I've been treated very well since I came here. But it's not easy being an immigrant, and we're all immigrants."

Wednesday, March 17, 7 p.m., FREE. Trip Taylor Bookseller, 210 N. 10th St., 208-344-3311.