Ciara Kenny

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

‘Being at home fills me with a sort of sadness’

The reality of life in Ireland is often very different to how we remember it, writes Anya O’Sullivan in Australia

Thu, Jan 23, 2014, 12:32


Anya O’Sullivan

I was told I would notice all the things flawed about my country, when I returned from abroad. I was loathe to admit this was true. I had been in Australia for nine months, and the romantic hue which had previously softened some uncomfortable truths was gone. The skies seemed greyer, the country more desperate, the minds more closed and the attitudes to alcohol even more frightening.

I had lived in London for seven years before moving to Australia, so I was not a stranger to foreign shores. Yet, somehow, I had never been struck by the magnitude of these things before. Everything seemed different to me. It was as if I was merely watching the events roll by on a large screen, rather than being a part of them. Why did my home feel less like home? Why did I not slip back into conversations with friends as naturally as I had done in the past? Why did nothing seem as gloriously perfect as it did in my memory?

The reality is, I have changed. I am not the same young woman that I was when I left for London at the tender age of sixteen. Nor, indeed, am I the same woman that left for Australia a mere nine months ago. My experiences have altered my perception of things. I have realised that I no longer find satisfaction in the things I used to. I repeatedly find myself looking for something more. Meaning has become a priority, rather than a happy accident. It is something I value to the point of actively pursuing it. I now get more out of an intelligent, and searching, conversation with a friend, than from hitting the town and bonding over shots and spirits. Perhaps one of the biggest changes I noticed, however, was that I have stopped caring what other people think.

Being outside brought back the feelings of pride, and ownership, that I have always had an abundance of, when it comes to my dear, old Ireland. A walk with my Mum along Mulranny beach reminded me of something Australia does not have; a deep rooted and far reaching history. Bar the legacy of the Aboriginals, which the modern Australian generally finds hard to accept as their own, which dates back to over sixty thousand years ago. I walked past a mass children’s grave with a large, decidedly Celtic boulder standing upright. It stood defiant against the raging West of Ireland elements, protecting the poor souls buried beneath. A clichéd, yet no less beautiful for the fact, mist hung in the air. As the rays of sun shone through it’s etherial nothingness; I felt it. I felt the sense of connection I had been missing until that point.

With an almighty storm brewing on the horizon, and the waves licking the shore in excited anticipation of the chaos to come, I recognised my feelings for the first time. I felt no less love for my home, my loved ones and my life in Ireland. What I was feeling was not ambivalence, but rather sadness. Sadness at how much had changed, or in some cases not changed, since I had last been home. An unbearable wrenching feeling in my heart, at the knowledge that I would not be home again for another twelve months, made me almost feel sick. The helplessness of knowing the struggles your loved ones are facing, yet the frustration of knowing there’s very little you can do to help them from over ten thousand miles away, is agonising.

Although being at home filled me with a very specific sort of sadness, leaving Ireland left me just as broken hearted, in a very different way. It is as if I am having a tempestuous love affair with my country. I cannot, and do not want to, break away from her. Yet, she leaves me broken hearted each time I visit, and each time I must leave. She is my home. My quiet, my strength and my blood. She is my sense of longing when I am away, and my sense of belonging upon my return. It pains me deeply to see such waves of our young folk flocking to other nations, for the opportunities they cannot find in Ireland. It is absurd that the key figures responsible for the country’s descent into the financial dregs, have not been held accountable for their actions. Like they were in Iceland, for example. The bright young minds Irish families took such time nourishing, and encouraging, are not feeding the development of our own nation. We are mainly abroad, contributing to the greater good of a different economy. We are the generation of Skype relationships with our families and friends. The long distance flights, the jet lag, the tearful goodbyes. They are all intrinsic parts of our lives.

I am back in the sweltering Brisbane heat now. The Australian summer is in full swing. When I look out my window all I can see are blue skies. But, there is something missing. An ache in my heart that no communication via technology will cure. A hug from my Mum, a spontaneous visit from a friend, a train ride to see my niece and nephews. It’s the little things you miss.

Ireland, you may not be in a position to give me everything I want from life right now. But, I hope to be back. Please, sort out your economic situation so those of us migrants that want to return home, can.