First my uncle left, then my siblings, now my son
For generations, Irish families have been saying goodbye to loved ones. But no parent wants to consider the possibility that it might be for good
In the 1950s, my father’s brother Peter took the slow boat to Australia with his wife Peggy and their young sons, beginning a pattern of emigration in my family that continues to the present day. News of their lives in Sydney filtered through over the years, via letters and telephone calls and photos of them eating Christmas dinner on the beach.
One of their adult sons came back to live with us in the early 1970s, bronzed with long curly hair and a curious accent that you had to rerun several times in your brain to understand. He was the most exotic person my teenage self had ever encountered and I followed him around for most of his stay, waiting for him to declare his undying love for me.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, three of my siblings emigrated. My sister Gay made her home and her life in Belgium. She married Alex and they had a beautiful daughter, Tatiana Sladkofsky. I think it is the best name I have ever heard.
My eldest and youngest brothers ended up in the US. My two young nieces, Margot and Abigail, were home this summer, gorgeous and intrinsically American but still quick on the uptake and sharp as tacks. We giggled our way around Grafton Street, and found a symbiosis that transcends distance and separation. I am still their auntie, no distance can change that, and a shared love of ice cream is a shared love of ice cream, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Only my brother Owen remained in Ireland. We are very close, the tie between us strengthened by the very absence of the others. During the years when we celebrated family rites of passage, our two mugs stared out from family photos, welded together for the occasion. As parents, Owen and his wife Jacinta have also said goodbye, as their son Rory has also emigrated. During the boom years he trained to become a plumber, but as the building deck of cards fell here, he had to move on to England, where he has found plenty of work.
Our own eldest son, Ben, has emigrated to New Zealand. He promised my husband Vincent and me that he would finish college, but after that he would travel. Over the next year he made his way down through Africa towards Australia where he found love in Melbourne.
Today he lives in New Zealand with his girlfriend Lisa, whom we have met on Skype. Lisa and I email each other regularly; she tells me much more of what is going on in their lives than my son ever would.