‘I moved back to Ireland to see if I could live there as an adult. I lasted 18 months.’
‘Ireland and Me’: Noelle McCarthy, Auckland
Noelle McCarthy: ‘I didn’t want to be an immigrant with an accent, I just wanted to sound like every other Kiwi... I thought I had to stop being Irish if I wanted to make it in Auckland.’
Last November, The Irish Times invited Irish readers living abroad to submit their reflections on their relationship with the land they left in the ‘Ireland and Me’ competition. The story below is one of the entries we received, which is collected in a new 'Ireland and Me' eBook.
The texts from Ireland come in while I am sleeping. Photos mainly, and articles from websites like Waterford Whispers. I’m in a Viber group with three friends from Cork. We call each other the Judas Cows, I forget why now. Sometimes they’ll be messaging about going to the cinema, or to the Opera House, and they’ll include me.
“Sorry, I’m in New Zealand this weekend,” I text. I like how that makes the world feel smaller.
Cork time is 13 hours behind Auckland. I have to go back half a day whenever I come home. My mother rings me every Sunday. I’ll be going to bed and she’ll be getting the dinner ready, peeling potatoes while she talks to me, asking if I want Cadbury Snacks sent over, telling me about the novena she is doing for my brother. I love all this, the Irishness.
This wasn’t how it used to be. I came to New Zealand in 2001 on a one year working holiday visa. I’ve lived in Auckland for the last 13 years, on and off. It’s where I got my start as a radio announcer. The accent helped, certainly.
I was professionally Irish for a while there, and I hated it. When I was doing talkback, people used to ring up and want to reminisce about their Irish grandparents. Looking back, I can see that they just wanted to share their memories, but at the time I found it excruciating. I didn’t want to be an immigrant with an accent, I just wanted to sound like every other Kiwi on the radio.
I used to cut them off quickly. I’m sorry about that now, it was mean of me. Back then, I thought I had to be one or the other, that I had to stop being Irish if I wanted to make it in Auckland.
I wanted to be new in New Zealand. I loved not having to share it with anyone from home either. That’s a selfish way of experiencing a new place, but I’d felt squashed growing up in Cork, like there wasn’t enough air for me. There was air-time in New Zealand. I used it.
Then I came home. I moved back to Cork in 2011. I wanted to see if I could live there again, as a grown-up, in my 30s. I lasted 18 months. It was hard and it was precarious. It was one of the three best things I have ever done, along with moving to France for love, and giving up drinking.
I wrote a lot. I ran to Fitzgerald's Park and back every day from my little house by the river. Until I reclaimed it, I never realised how much Ireland scared me.
I’m back in Auckland now, and I think I’m more Irish than ever. I know who I am and where I come from. I’m a Judas Cow. I’m an Irish voice in Auckland.