MY dad Patrick Gerald McKinstry’s family was from West Belfast. His dad Danny McKinstry moved to Scotland in the 1920s in search of work — he found it hard to get a decent job because he was a Catholic, trade unionist and active in the socialist movement.

My dad was born in the village of Linwood just outside of Glasgow. Although, he was born in Scotland, like many of the Glasgow Irish he maintained strong connections with Ireland and spent a lot of his youth cycling across Ireland. He said that one of the happiest times of his life was cycling up McKinstry Road in Belfast with his mates the summer before he was due to start his apprenticeship in the steelworks in Glasgow.

During the 1950s and 1960s in Scotland Irish Catholics were discriminated against not just in the workplace but in wider society, being excluded from golf clubs, bowling clubs and social clubs.

My dad was an integral founding member of the Saint John Ogilvie Social Club which provided a much-needed haven for Irish Catholics who were excluded from much of the social world of post-war west of Scotland. He and my Ma Brenda danced there every Saturday night for fifty years.

Like his father he became active in the trade union movement during the post-war period. He was acutely aware of the discriminatory practices which operated against Irish Catholics in the west of Scotland and actively fought against it, helping secure the employment for many of his fellow Irishmen despite the strong opposition that he faced by many Scottish Protestant workers and employers. This dogged determination to secure employment rights for his fellow Irishmen was evident at his funeral where many men came to thank me for my Da fighting for them in earlier times.

During the Troubles my Da subtly guided and taught his children about the issues at hand and continually discussed the civil rights of Irish Catholics living in the North. Some of his talks must have rubbed off on me as I did my PHD in Civil Rights and became an active trade unionist and writer for the Scottish Left Review. It would seem Irish blood runs strong.

When my Da’s life was coming to an end. We were lucky as a family as we were able to keep him at home until the last two weeks of his life. When he was finally admitted to hospital, me, being the oldest child was with him when he was given the news of his terminal diagnosis. When I said to him did he understand that his life was coming to an end, he said, “Aye, but keep this between us until after the weekend. Your wee sister is having a barbeque on Sunday, and we don’t need to spoil it.” That was the measure of the man.

Whilst holding vigil in the last days of his life we talked about things big and small, and I asked him where he would go again? He said, I would like to go up McKinstry Road. Well, Da you got your wish, your ashes are scattered on the Road. I will follow you up McKinstry Road in good time.

Your son David.

Dr David McKinstry
University of Glasgow

Farewell to the Son of the Traveller

My father’s ashes were scattered

In a field full of thistles

On McKinstry Road in Belfast,

Whilst the final lines of Joyce’s

The Dead were read.

The wind gently lifted

His remains and blew his spirit

To the four provinces of Erin.

Those same silver breezes

Glided grains of him

Into the heavens,

Where the solar winds

Carried his quintessence

Through the universe.

Yet a small part of him

Remains with those Ulster thistles,

And to me,

Some slight essence

Of an Irish Flower,

Will eternally be

The son of the traveller

By David McKinstry

*McKinstry is Gaelic for Son of the traveller.