Ciara Kenny

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

Returning is the last thing on my mind

After decades in Australia, Philip Lynch still has nostalgic memories of Ireland but has no intention of moving back

Thu, May 9, 2013, 07:26


Philip Lynch

Seldom can there be a neat resolution to most migrants’ trajectories.

Irrespective of our best intentions, once we board that ferry or aeroplane the genie is well and truly out of the proverbial bottle. Despite our best laid plans and despite leaving grieving loved ones in our wake, the return road home will always take on a formidable unenviable status.

It’s fair to say that we migrants are forever destined to live our “new” lives abroad with one eye cast wistfully back over our collective shoulders. And in the rear vision mirrors of our minds, a healthy measure of regret and nostalgia remains ever present. Even though Skype, Facebook and other modes of social media have revolutionised our means of keeping in touch, virtual communication will always be a poor cousin to the real thing.

Decades later, summers spent on our farm in Westmeath as a young lad aren’t that hard to conjure in my mind. Specifically time spent on the bog rearing turf or weeks saving the hay, though tough work at the time, now take on cherished memories. Standing by my father’s side and fishing for perch on Sundays with my home-made hazel fishing rod at the river Inny are also indelibly imprinted in my memory. All utterly sentimental stuff I know, but rural Ireland, whether it is understated places like Finea or Fore, for me, will always retain a charm and idyllic status.

Even though I left that morning clutching a single suitcase, casually even nonchantly, I now realise, I continue to carry Ireland in my psyche, and I always will; Australia is now my home and most likely will be for the rest of my days.

Of course this slow burn epiphany has been a long time coming. It has crept up on me like an evening fog in winter. An emigrant’s life is like a rebirth, and it takes on a long incubation. The novelty of the first few years gradually makes way a more workman like existence. But my country of origin continues to occupy a significant portion of my psyche and it will always continue to do so. I still speak with an Irish brogue even though I’ve made no conscious effort to retain it. My young daughter, usually in her candid pedantic moments, sees fit to correct my “mispronunciations” and I still struggle to enunciate certain words “correctly”. That’s just part of the package of living as a migrant.

Although, by now, I’m no ardent fan of all things Irish, Van Morrison and U2 are well-represented in my CD collection. As is the poetry and prose of Heaney, Durcan, Toibin, McCann, Healey, MacGahern and Enright – to name just a few – that sit within easy reach on my bookshelves. If I can’t live in Ireland, reading Irish literature and listening to Irish music isn’t a bad substitute. Though, in terms of popular culture, I have to concede that Australian Rules football has long since overtaken my interest in its Gaelic cousin.

I’ve kept an anxious eye on the fallout from the so called Celtic Tiger. But don’t ask me to vote in any Irish elections; I’m simply not well informed to participate. If I’m to be honest I have to say I’m relieved I don’t have to endure Ireland’s current bleak economic times. 1980s Ireland prompted my departure and I can empathise with anyone who is now packing their bags.

But amidst the inevitable sadness that characterises modern day Irish emigration we shouldn’t forget the movement of people on a global scale. Perhaps we Irish migrants aren’t faring too badly when we consider that there are, according to United Nation estimates, 15 million refugees on the move in the world today. The vast majority of these people are fleeing from famines, wars and unrelenting political persecution.

Returning to their countries of origin often isn’t a dilemma much less an option for these refugees.

Returning may well be the last thing on their minds.

Philip is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration. Read previous pieces by him about visiting Belfast after a long time away, his relationship with his ageing parents, about his dwindling connection to Ireland, the complications of leaving and staying away, and his memory of the day he left Ireland in 1983.