Ciara Kenny

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

“Moving back to Ireland is not in my plan, but none of it ever was”

Marc de faoite has lived in London, Brussels, France, India and Malaysia. He has found himself and lost himself around the world, and moving back to Ireland is not in the plan, he writes.

Sat, Nov 19, 2011, 12:08


Marc de faoite in the Pyrenees

Marc de faoite has lived in London, Brussels, France, India and Malaysia. He has found himself and lost himself around the world, and moving back to Ireland is not in the plan, he writes.

“Would you ever move back to Ireland, given the chance?”

I’ll think for half a second before I answer that.

No. Not now. It’s been more than 22 years. My life is elsewhere now. Maybe in the early years, but even then I was enjoying my life abroad too much. Though there were no jobs to be had in Ireland, I was a willing emigrant.

June 1989 Aer Lingus Dublin- Heathrow. The flight attendant recognizes me and my best friend. “Youse were in Cathal Bruagha Street,” she says with a smile and so we sip Champagne on the house. A final parting round. One for the road. Airborne, the roads rises with us.

In London I immersed myself in culture. Wet autumn afternoons spent waiting in the rain for the cheap tickets at Covent Garden Opera. La Traviata and the smell of wet wool from the sweater my mother had knitted for me. The yarn chosen from Arnotts on a Christmas trip home. Do mammies still knit sweaters for their emigrant sons? And would they wear them if they did? I explored museums, never missed an exhibition at the Tate. I boated on Hyde Park’s Serpentine and ate food from Bayswater’s Arabs and Greeks.

I lived out in the suburbs. All my neighbours Hindus and Sikhs. I learned to tell the difference and to eat their spicy food. My housemates were Greek and German. They taught me their swearwords. All I knew to teach them was “póg mo thóin.” I told them a really good one was uachtar reoite, but never explained that it just meant ice-cream. My colleagues were French. I knew their swearwords already, so they taught me gutter slang. It stood me in good stead.

Five years living in downtown Brussels in a North-African neighbourhood. Pepita from Andalusia runs the shop downstairs. She always keeps me a slice of tortilla, oh heavenly omlette. She tells me her ‘esecret’ – a spoonful of Dijon mustard mixed in with the eggs. Cultural integration.

Refuge in the Pyrenees

I knew more Irish in Brussels than I knew in Ireland. Most of my class from Cathal Brugha Street had left Ireland’s shores. We all lost touch. Or maybe it was just me. In a fit of patriotism I tried to learn Irish from a Belfast man. I had no more success than I’d had at school with that befuddling tongue. Brussels weekends and the live music scene. Gigs and concerts. Pub quizzes at the James Joyce. Kitty’s was cleaner and nicer, but full of Eurocrats. We were the other Irish in Brussels, for a while at least. Some still had cement on their hands as they sank their pints. Those with degrees graduated to cushy commission posts. My mere diploma kept me in the airport hotel. Weekends away – Paris, Amsterdam, Trier, the Ardennes. Christmas shopping ship to Canterbury. Would you step this way sir. A statement, not a question. Closed rooms and body searches. What is the purpose of your visit? The following years we chose the Christmas Market in Cologne. German border guards a much friendlier crowd indeed.

I lived in French-speaking Brussels where I learned to curse and count in Arabic. I worked in Flanders. A linguistic divide crossed every day. It took me years to learn French. Flemish came easy to me. Closer to English and more down to earth. Night classes and love affairs, the best way to learn. (Maybe there’s something in those Gaeltacht romances). My colleagues all astounded at my progress. But that’s nothing in Belgium. Even the train conductor reads newspapers and speaks to passengers in 4 different tongues. The Waloons think I’m Flemish and so do the Dutch. I don’t correct them. Integration and disintegration. Cold winters were hard though. I’m made for the heat. Fly south like the winter’s geese.

I hitch-hiked instead. A cold, cold winter’s week standing on the hard edge.

Belgian French and Pyrenean French read both the same. But what comes through the eyes is not what comes through the ears. It took time to tune in to new sounds and expressions. No Irish here. At least not at first.

12 years in France. I almost lost my mother tongue. I spoke with a distorted accent, just like Stephen Roche. I hiked in the mountains two days a week. I bought cheese from shepherds and strayed across the border. I learned enough Spanish to get my face slapped. I learned enough Basque to be bought a drink. I learned that you could drink and eat at the same time. Much more civilized around a good table than in a smoky pub. Winters were cold. I was made for warmer climes.

Work was hard to find. Even for the French. Odd jobs, a year or two here, a year or two there. Teaching English in the school year and seasonal summer work. Castrating corn. Early morning work. Stretching high, plucking flowers in dew-soaked knife-leaved cornfields that lacerated forearms. The sharp-end of cutting-edge genetic engineering. Telling lies part time in a call centre. I was so good at telling lies they took me on full time. It’s the soft Irish accent that gets them, they said. Lies, lies and more lies. A wedding. A divorce.

My life veered off on another path. Years spent back and forth between India and a Pyrenean mountain hut where I worked. India, where I sought to find myself, to lose myself. And succeeded on both counts. India, where I learned to speak English again. And to wobble my head. India, where I met my Malaysian wife. France or Malaysia? Not hard to choose. I’m a warm weather man. Humid tropical heat on a balmy palmy island. Winters aren’t cold here. The climate suits me well. It could be paradise. Perhaps it is.

Marc in a bookshop in Kuala Lumpur with a copy of Sini Sana:Travels in Malaysia, in which he had two short stories published.

How many different lives I’ve led. How many things I’ve seen. A palm reading Tibetan monk on a Himalayan mountain slope tells me I’m only halfway. Tells me to use the years wisely. When I cycled to school on frosty Meath mornings I never imagined any of this. Does any schoolboy?

“Would you ever move back to Ireland, given the chance?”

I can’t say. It’s not in my plans. But none of it ever was.

Marc now lives in Langkawi, an island off the west coast of Malaysia, close to the border with Thailand. When he is not writing he runs a yoga centre with his Malaysian wife.

Marc’s Website -