‘Ireland is where I grew up and Canada is where I matured’
‘Ireland and Me’: Margaret O’Shea Bonner, Ontario, Canada
Margaret O’Shea Bonner: ‘Is this home now? Am I Canadian? Is Ireland still home? Am I Irish? For me, both are true, but the nature of that duality is that I’m not a whole one or the other.’
Last November, The Irish Times invited Irish readers living abroad to submit their reflections on their relationship with the land they left in the ‘Ireland and Me’ competition. The story below is one of the entries we received, which is collected in a new 'Ireland and Me' eBook.
I considered going to Australia once when I was 17 and asked my father if he would be okay with that. “Why don’t you go a bit further and you’d be closer to home,” he said. I took that as a no.
A couple of years later my boyfriend (now husband) and I left for the US on J1 visas, finding ourselves in California, Alaska and places in between. It was an adventure. We eventually ended up in Toronto, Canada on student visas, this time for post-graduate studies.
Our families were in Ireland, our friends were there too, and we would join them when we were done, we thought. We made a point of buying a dual voltage hairdryer so it would work in both countries. We had plans. Hah!
The MA turned into a PhD and by the end of that we had three Canadian children. A long story and 37 years later we are still here, and it looks like this might be it.
I think of the dual voltage hairdryer from time to time, especially when the issue of identity comes up. Is this home now? Am I Canadian? Is Ireland still home? Am I Irish? For me, both are true, but the nature of that duality is that I’m not a whole one or the other.
Is that what blow-ins feel like? Am I a blow-in? My husband’s parents moved from Donegal to Tipperary early in their married life and adopted a permanent blow-in status there. Their children were given county citizenship in part, I think, because they were good at hurling and camogie.
I get to go “home” twice every year, once to go there, then to come here, both coming home. And I need both. While I feel some disconnect from Ireland, I have changed and so has it, it remains at the essence of who I am and being there strengthens that for me.
I need a hit of the western Atlantic shore, the nearness of extended family, Irish humour wet and dry, and a good pint of Guinness. And then I get back on the plane and go home again. Ireland is where I grew up and Canada is where I matured.
I’m not sure I could have done either as well anywhere else.