Ciara Kenny

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‘The joy of exploration and the pain of distance’

We can learn a lot about managing homesickness from Irish legends, writes Anne Devlin

Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 17:30

Anne Devlin

Oisin was the first retuning emigrant; he left Ireland for love and the lure of the unknown. As time passed, he yearned for the familiar, and the familial. Every migrant since Oisin has felt the joy of exploration and the pain of distance. Light footed we leave and with heavy heart we yearn to plant the weight of our feet in the soft green soil of home.

Our schoolyard railings against being forced to read Peig are forgotten. We drop cupla focal into our daily conversation. We buy cryptic t-shirts from hairy babies, emblazoned with the emblems of childhood. We give our children Irish names, take up ceili dancing. Although we may not have read a word he wrote, we celebrate Bloomsday.

We daydream about Curley Wurlys and long summer evenings. We wonder if it is still a long walk from the beach to the water when the tide is out. Our ears listen closely when we hear an Irish accent. We play a guessing game in our head called “what chief town in County Offaly is that accent from”? Embarrassment is replaced by nostalgia if we see a re-run of Foster & Allen in leprechaun costumes on Top of the Pops.

They say Ireland punches above her weight when it comes to Nobel prizes for literature. She had to. We are wanderers by choice or lack of choice and the poets hold our story. We lean into their words, for comfort, for truth. They return us to a time before innocence was stolen and faith was lost. The poets write the song lines that guide the steps of the wanderers and the musicians play the melody.

Oisin returned. The land had moved on in his absence. One year in Tir na n’Og was 300 years in Ireland. The place he missed no longer existed. The strong warrior touched the ground became an “aged and paltry thing a tattered coat upon a stick”, then turned to dust. The dust was scattered to the wind then swept up by “a peasants prayer” into darkest night. There, in darkest night the dust was woven into “heavens embroidered cloths”.

Oisin’s sky dust reminds us; there’s no turning back, and so we surrender ourselves to moving forward “linked into the network of eternal life” and “peace comes dropping slow”. We peer into the “deep heart’s core”, stretch out our hands in friendship, smile at strangers, strike up conversations at bus stops with fellow wanderers. We plant flowers, build community, sing songs and celebrate St Patrick’s Day with vigor.

Forced to Ireland by slave traders, St Patrick was later compelled back by compassion. We take a leaf from his shamrock and grow more comfortable with yearnings. We adopt the customs of our neighbours, without losing sight of own. We watch our children grow, their eyes look skywards, and their arms stretch out to welcome strangers.

Anne Devlin has lived in Sydney since 1996.