Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Home & Family [Part 1] – Writing Lives

Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Home & Family [Part 1]

‘Of course one’s life in this world does not begin as a blank new page. Before the teachers and the preachers start to tell us why we are here, we have already carried into life influences from past generations. Adequate or inadequate it is our parents who are our first teachers. For them it is a terrible responsibility, whether or not they are aware of it.’


In order to give his readers a better idea of his family’s social standing, Jack McQuoid writes about his family ancestry.

More specifically, he details his father’s life. Jack’s father James McQuoid was ‘born north of Belfast in the port of Larne in County Antrim.’ (4) Jack’s grandfather John McQuoid, ‘was lost at sea in his early twenties…in the early eighteen seventies.’ (5) James McQuoid was only a one year old whenever his father was presumably dead. This would have been an unimaginable amount of financial pressure for Jack’s grandmother Mary Jane Thompson: ‘My grandmother with fateful resignation made preparations to earn a living for herself and her one year-old-son – my father.'(5)

John McQuoid and Mary Jane Thompson Marriage certificate, 1876 accessed from Ancestry.co.uk
John McQuoid and Mary Jane Thompson’s Marriage certificate, 1876, accessed from Ancestry.co.uk

In those days, men were expected to be the only workers of the household. Mary was put into an unusual situation as she was a first time mother that had to come to terms with coming into the working class world.

‘She eventually found a job as a sewing-maid at the residence of old Colonel McNeill situated near Larne Harbour.'(5) It is admirable that Mary stayed strong for her son James and carried on with her everyday life rather than being consumed by the loss of her husband. If she had not stayed strong James may have ended up in an orphanage if she hadn’t found work to support him.

Mary remarried 7 years after her marriage to John McQuoid to Hugh Close, ‘He was a widower with two sons.'(6) It is not surprising that Mary had remarried, and it put her and her son James in a more stable financial position.

Mary Jane Thompson's second marriage certificate to Hugh Close, 1883, accessed from Ancestry.co.uk
Mary Jane Thompson’s second marriage certificate to Hugh Close, 1883, accessed from Ancestry.co.uk

‘My grandmother and he had a second family after their marriage – two sons and four daughters. That would make a family of nine children in all that Mr Close had to support.'(6) Jack writes with the assumption that his grandmother Mary would have left her job to become a fulltime housewife. It puts Hugh Close as the sole supporter of the household.

If this assumption is correct, that would have been an enormous amount of pressure upon Hugh Close. Nine children makes a large household to try and support on one salary.

‘I think my father… helped with the aid of his two half-brothers to bring up the six younger children.'(6) The three eldest boys of the household presumably took up the role of supporting the younger siblings.

This is a huge sacrifice for these three young men to dedicate their youth to the upbringing of their family. As Humphries notes, ‘Only the most privileged boys experienced a childhood without want’ (2010, 97). The pressures of having to provide for their siblings may have been the contributing factor as to why Jack’s father’s half-brothers went off to work at sea for hopes of a better life.

There was not much opportunity in those days of a decent occupation unless it came along with considerable risk such as going to sea. This risk is sadly evident with the loss of his grandfather John McQuoid.

Jack not only speaks of his father’s family but also that of his mother’s: ‘Thomas Gilmore, my maternal grandfather was a shoemaker who married the daughter of a well to do Fermanagh farmer. Hoey was my grandmother’s maiden name.'(7) He is very precise when it comes to speaking of family members as he always ensures to include their full names.

(A famished boy and girl turning up the ground to seek for a potato to appease their hunger. — Illustrated London News, February 20, 1847.)

He tells an interesting story about his Grandmother as a young child during the Famine in 1846 who parts with some of her family’s food to a homeless mother and child. ‘My grandmother stood trembling as the scales moved up and down and then came to rest – weights and meal balanced equally.'(7) Jack speaks of the hardships that both sides of his grandparents family endured in their early lives.

Irish emigrants leaving Queenstown for New York, (1874), Library of Congress, Washington

It seems that many of his mother’s sisters emigrated in pursuit of better life prospects. ‘Two of my mother’s sisters boarded immigrant ships for America when they were teenage girls.'(8) Even ‘another sister went to Glasgow'(8). It is clearly evident that these working-class Irish people had no hopes of a comfortable life in Ireland and ventured elsewhere for stability.

Ship Europa (built 1848) voyaged from Liverpool to New York.

Upon this recollection of stories that had been passed down from his mother and father he reflects on his own upbringing, ‘I never in my early childhood seemed to have been deprived of good care, good food, and good clothes.'(9) Jack seems to write with a feeling of gratefulness that he has not endured such trials and tribulations in his early life.

Jack established his parents’ upbringing as a way to portray to his readers an understanding of how grateful he is of his own comfortable upbringing. ‘While adult children’s reflection on fathers’ wage labour acknowledged breadwinning as a duty, it could also be imagined as an act of devotion.’ (Strange, 2012, 1012) Jack reflects on his father’s labour from childhood in a sense of appreciation that he always fought for a better life that he provided to Jack.


McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.

Humphries, Jane. Childhood and Child labour in the British Industrial Revolution. New York: Cambride UP, 2010.

Strange, Julie Marie. ‘FATHERHOOD, PROVIDING, AND ATTACHMENT IN LATE VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN WORKING-CLASS FAMILIES.’ The Historical Journal 55.4 (December 2012): 1007-1027.

NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.

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