The Holy Name Church, Oxford Road, Manchester, 23 April, 1973

Departure (2), 7 September, 2009

John phones me to discuss where to meet up. I have been musing about this during the last week but hadn’t reached a definitive decision. But I do know that it has to be Manchester. Why? In the past I had escaped to spend periods in France, and I had also lived in London over two years, but my ties with the city are too strong to suggest anywhere else. I narrow down my choice of location to two places.

First, I suggest Piccadilly train station, where we eventually make the opening image of our collaboration. I have regularly commuted into the city by train since childhood and Piccadilly has constantly been my point of arrival and departure. I’ve always been attracted to places of daily transit and as the city’s main train station it is one of the key arteries linking Manchester to the rest of the UK. Like many of the major English train stations, it has changed considerably over the last two decades. Gone are the days of old leaking roofs and flocks of pigeons nesting in dark and filthy upper recesses: now a parade of gleaming shops and bars fill two floors and light floods in through large glass windows and fine mesh roofing high above the platforms. This can present a challenge to memory: can your recollections of your past in a place remain the same when so much of its fabric has changed? The station’s transformation seems to have effaced many of my recollections from childhood and adolescence passing through here but it will always be more than a mere stop on my daily commute between home and work.

The second location I propose is Holy Name Church on Oxford Road. This is where my parents married in 1973, and where my favourite photograph of them was taken, but also because it reminds me of my father’s migration to the city. When he first arrived here, he used to live on Dover Street behind the Church, and the Holy Name was where he attended Mass. Further down the same side of Oxford Road, I was born in St Mary’s Hospital in 1978, and now work opposite the Holy Name at the University. So when I am on campus I pass by it at least twice a day, yet seldom catch people climbing or descending its steps: how many students and staff have ever ventured inside? Every time I see it, it also reminds me of my own return back to my alma mater after living in London and working in Wales and thus to an area that has played a pivotal role in my parents’ lives. This unplanned and oddly circular journey never fails to surprise me and despite myself seems to root me irrevocably here.

Image & Text © Joseph McGonagle, 2009

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