After so long gone, I will be a tourist in Ireland, travelling on my Australian passport
I’m not sure what may still resonate, and what old ghosts may resurface
As we edge deeper into Tasmania’s winter, misty mornings, scant sunshine and darkness by five o’clock are the norm. I’m now starting to get excited about heading “home” to Ireland, one more time. It’s almost been a decade since I’ve been back. Like a lapsed Catholic, I feel as if I’ve somehow strayed but time gets away.
Travelling on my recently renewed Australian passport, I know now I will always be a tourist in Ireland. Like so many long-gone migrants, I suspect, I’ll be skirting through a landscape that once was so familiar, until it’s time to go again. It will just be a short trip, as the teenage daughter doesn’t want to miss out on too much school.
My last visits for my parents’ funerals back in early 2010 slid by in a bittersweet mixture of grief and jet-lagged torpor. Their funerals were almost overshadowed by extreme weather. My mother died just after Christmas, in the middle of the coldest winter for 50 years; and, almost as if not to be outdone, my ailing father was buried just as ash spewed forth from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, delaying my flight back to Australia for more than a week.
Buoyed by this release from work that long service leave brings, but chastened by the heavy carbon footprint that is the reality of air travel, we’ll be there by mid-July. My reasons for emigrating as a wide-eyed young culchie have finally been consigned to the distant past of the 1980s. Middle-age ushers in new concerns, new sensibilities, perhaps even frailties not previously recognised, and it affords little room for any sentimentality. Though, of course I’m occasionally prone to the odd lapse, usually late at night, to imagining the life I could’ve had if I’d never emigrated.
This time, with my parents gone, my time in Ireland will surely be less fraught. I’m looking forward to kinder weather. I won’t mind if it rains. Wherever I’ve lived in Australia, rain has always been welcome. The east coast of Tasmania is in drought, and almost all of New South Wales and southern Queensland is also enduring a prolonged dry spell. Most of Australia’s major cities have now built desalination plants to bolster the water supply for their citizens.
I’m looking forward to experiencing those long days when daylight lasts until well into the evening. I’ll show my daughter around where I grew up (not sure what she’ll make of Castlepollard or Granard or the quiet village of Finea or, at a stretch, the quaint wonders of Fore!), and she’ll get to meet her aunts and uncles she doesn’t know, and, possibly cousins that even I will struggle to recognise. We’ll see. It may make for an interesting trip.
It will be good to get away from Australia, at least temporarily. Our recent election result has cast a long shadow on this vast country’s political leaders’ unwillingness to tackle climate change. Large-scale coal mining in Queensland, not far from our already imperilled Great Barrier Reef, now seems inevitable. Environmentalists and climate scientists are despairing. For a time, it seemed as if the schoolkids’ climate action strikes all over Australia would tip public opinion towards positive action. It came as no surprise that New Zealand’s prime minister was recently voted Australia’s most popular politician.
The re-election of our conservative coalition government means that the hundreds of asylum seekers being detained indefinitely on the makeshift offshore processing centres at Nauru and Manus Island, will ever be allowed to begin new lives on the Australian mainland. It’s a grim state of affairs, and a terrible indictment of Australia’s proud and rich history of multiculturalism.
When I get to Ireland, I’m not sure what may still resonate, and what old ghosts may resurface. You can only glean so much on social media. Dublin, I hardly know. If I can, I’ll avoid the dual carriageways. I’m more comfortable, more familiar with the unremarkable midlands with its gorse, fields of tillage and dairy herds and understated scenery; and expanses of bog which now seem to be garnering some belated recognition thanks to Ian Maleny’s Minor Monuments.
Soon, at last, it will be time to experience summer in Ireland. Perhaps we’ll do Grafton Street and maybe even try the coffee at Bewley’s and have a browse at Hodges Figgis. And, of course, to my daughter’s chagrin, we’ll spend a while at the bog, where surely dragonflies still flit about over all the moss and sedge.