Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Far away fields are greener, but Irishness runs deep

Neil Goodwin, who considers himself as “a nomadic Irishman, indigenous to the world but belonging to Ireland”, has returned to live in the country of his birth after 16 years travelling the world.

Tue, Jan 10, 2012, 08:26


Neil Goodwin, who considers himself as “a nomadic Irishman, indigenous to the world but belonging to Ireland”, has returned to live in the country of his birth after 16 years travelling the world.

Neil Goodwin on Lough Erne

I was born here in Ireland, in 1976, to a 17-year-old girl. Sadly for her, and many others like her, she had to give her child up for adoption. This does not tend to occur naturally in the animal kingdom, but thankfully humans have the capacity for situation ethics, where love provides the substantive basis for all ethical decision making, and I for one am grateful for this. I realised early that I was a break in the biological family chain.

With an adopted brother and an adopted sister I grew up surrounded by love and joy, and all the comforts required to nurture self-esteem, imagination and an expansive world view. To adopt three children and to see them grow up so happily is an incredible achievement and our joys and successes are testament to the love and humanity of my parents. This separation from my biological chain was – to me – a great liberation, a freedom to invent my character, and to re-invent it constantly. I agree with George Harrison when he said that to change constantly is what life is about. As the law of the jungle and the sea – change is the only constant in the universe, and I certainly felt an acute sense of the flux, chaos and grand scheme of things from an early age.

And so a journey of self-discovery and rites of passage began, with no resentment but with a glad sadness and all the attendant ghosts of an eternal separation. With a profound sense of confidence and adventure I embarked upon a Philosophy degree in England with the summer months spent deep in the California Redwoods, in my tent, with occasional humans, strange insects and larger predators for company. I followed this wonderful period with winters in Poland and the Czech Republic, a year in Byron Bay in Australia, soaking up this enlightened Northern Rivers Utopia, to the jungles of northern Thailand, a slow boat down the Mekong and into Laos and Vietnam to teach English for one year. To the Indian Himalayas and the Tibetan border, Bangladesh and Malaysia, immersing myself in spiritual teachings, Buddhism and Daoism.

Then came the offer of a consultancy position with a Dutch-Tanzanian solar energy company in Dar-es-Salaam (with weekends on Zanzibar). From there I went to Kigali, Rwanda to establish a renewable energy joint venture between these two neighbouring East African Community countries. I have found myself alone in a two-man tent surrounded by hungry lionesses and I have encountered, and gained insight into the ongoing traumas of conflict and genocide. Almost a year spent in Rwanda necessitated some respite in Ireland, to rest and unravel in the warm glow of family and friends, the unconditional love and acceptance, where no questions are asked nor judgements made, and for whom no explanations are necessary.

Once again though I succumbed to my disillusionment with Dublin – with what I saw as the breathtaking ignorance of the church, the superciliousness of the nouveau riche, the clinical, antiseptic, emotionless bars and restaurants, overpriced and exclusive, the apathy of a materially satisfied human group. Then I found East Berlin  – a society that trusts its citizens. With its aroma of intelligence and Nordic melancholia, its stripped-down authenticity and creativity, and best of all – an affordable flight home. Shangri-la. After some years there I recently spent 3 months back in Byron Bay, and 6 weeks in Wellington during the rugby world cup in New Zealand. Now I’m home again, unemployed but strangely contented with my surroundings, enlightened by my search, by what I have absorbed. Grateful with humility, and ready to build a life in Ireland. Tóg É Go Bog É agus bas in Eireann.

Bill Clinton had to remind us that Ireland is one of the greatest brands on the planet, instantly recognisable, world-famous, and that we must protect it. Yet we remain apathetic, hung-over from our gluttony, ashamed of our irresponsible behaviour. We mask our insecurities with an endless sense of humour and bile, with resentment, praise and blame. The comedian Dylan Moran pointed out – ‘If you look closely enough at the Irish you’ll find that they are all hiding someone else inside them.’ The Germans have a word for it – Hintergedanken, a hidden agenda, ulterior motives, a nagging, unconscious thought. Perhaps it’s the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, prevalent also in Australia. We don’t like one of our own to make it big internationally and sneer back at us for our constant mediocrity, the mediocrity that has been decried by many from Samuel Beckett to Eamon Dunphy. We seem to be eternally torn between our humble communal values and a latent desire to break free and soar. We never had a monarchy in Ireland, no royal family; the champion in anarchic Gaelic Ireland – pre Flight of the Earls – was the clan leader. Arguably it was the musician in the last century,  and perhaps now it is the comic and the sportsman;  allaying our fears and anxieties and exporting our qualities.

I feel a great sense of humility and gratitude for what I have absorbed and experienced in these intrepid sixteen years. I feel at peace. I can’t feel bored or angry with Ireland now, after the turbulence of many years of disillusionment with an Ireland I saw as blinkered and unwilling to take a leap of faith, unwilling to unbridle the shackles of parochialism and insecurity. I find myself freed from the self-perpetuating cycles of praise and blame, and back at the source of what I essentially am – a nomadic Irishman, indigenous to the world but belonging to Ireland.

Home again, surrounded by family, by friends, by the lush greens and mossy glens, the babbling brooks and the wild coastlines, the friendly local and the old-style shop front, the delicious tap water, a sup of tay and the variety of biscuits, the Autumn light, the butter, the milk, the fresh produce, re-runs of 1970s documentaries about Galway Bay fishermen or Uilleann Pipers from County Clare, the earthy smoke of peat on the fire, the complete absence of poisonous snakes and spiders, the scarcity of the mosquito, the Wicklow mountains, the winter light in Donegal, the great writers, scriveners, dossers, poets and painters, Van Morrison’s Celtic Ray, the resonance of Philip Lynott and his Dublin, James Joyce’s ‘yellow morning air’, the smell of that North Atlantic constant that the vanity of change and progress cannot erase. The reek of history, in everything from cosy old pubs, to Liscannor-slated roofs, the loneliness of the crowd in Dublin and the knowledge that everything – everything– will be alright. This can only begin to describe that which compels me home. After all, far away fields may be greener, but they’re just as hard to mow.

Update: Follow Neil’s blog

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