'I never got to know Ireland when I lived there'
Now living in France, DAVID BURNSfeels he wasted his youth watching American cartoons and playing video games
Sitting in a blue seat, legs pressed between hand luggage and the next row, waiting for the plane to accelerate and the pressure to build up and the world to fall away into orange networks of street lights, I thought, “I watched too much TV growing up.”
I used to watch it all the time, cartoons such as Street Sharks and Johnny Quest, Saturday morning specials such as Kenan and Kel or Sabrina the Teenage Witch. My head was always stuck in a box. It was stuck there so long it got filled with high schools, with cartoon kids playing basketball, and going to the prom.
Flying back after spending Christmas at home, I started thinking I should have gone outside more, made an effort to get to know my country. I should have played GAA. The Irish bar where I work in Paris, a place called The Coolín, sponsors a football team called the Paris Gaels and my New Year’s resolution is to join it, despite the inevitable humiliation I will feel playing my nation’s sport worse than a couple of curious Frenchmen.
Growing up, I never played football or hurling. I played video games. I raced through the streets of LA, fought ninjas in the Forbidden City of Ancient China, and played a part in the rise of Rome.
Now I live in France. I speak French fluently, and I teach English. Irish, however, I remember as a language I despised. I couldn’t relate to the literature, I refused to attempt anything further than a working understanding of the grammar and, despite the persistent efforts of many well-meaning teachers that I perceived as out-of-touch, I never listened to R na G.
Perhaps it might redeem me in their eyes to know that I have signed up, as part of another New Year’s resolution, to lessons in Gaeilge at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Perhaps I’m trying to redeem myself in my own eyes.
All these New Year resolutions to be Irish, but why now? Asking myself that on a plane outward bound, the recent feeling that I’m leaving something important behind welled up to answer me with a word. Gathering. Ireland is gathering. Ireland is coalescing, increasing in mass; Ireland is pulling me and everyone else I have seen or talked with to a centre of gravity forming now at its heart.
A place I barely knew
When I left first, I didn’t feel this tug. I left a place I barely knew. But ever since it has not stopped explaining itself to me; there are lists, there are videos gone viral, there are print articles and now there is a social media campaign. The place I left has come alive. It is calling me back.
I never got to know my country. I walked through it in American Vans with headphones in, cursing the rain and wishing for sun. I was certain my future lay in another country.
It is not nostalgia that is dragging me back now. My childhood was shot – during summer holidays and digital daydreams – so full of other places, I couldn’t have listed the 32 counties. It is a feeling of loss nagging at me. The kind of feeling of loss that follows the news that your grandad has cancer. The feeling you are losing something you have ignored all your life and that is now moving on without you.
And with each step I take towards a future on the continent, the feeling grows, until it is straining every tie to creaking point. I feel it, I can’t ignore it.
Ireland is gathering, and I want to be a part of it. This year I will make my way home.
* David Burns teaches English at La Sorbonne in Paris and works as a barman at the Coolín Irish pub. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin last year with a degree in French and English literature.