There is something unique about being part of a generation of Irish emigrants who are known more for coming home than we are for leaving. It’s been two years since I flew home to Galway from London, where I’ve lived for the past five years, to vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment on May 25th, 2018. I remember feeling in awe of the hundreds of young Irish adults who cared so deeply about the fate of our country and the women who live here that they would get themselves on planes from all over the world to be part of it.
Now, the Covid-19 pandemic is not just a physical threat, but an existential threat to a generation of people whose lives have been – up to now – characterised by hypermobility.
Initially, my decision to come back home to Galway from central London was instigated by my parents, who were becoming increasingly alarmed at the Covid-19 response in the UK. I work for the UK office of the NGO Reporters without Borders, and very thankfully I’ve been able to continue my work from home since the lockdown.
To be honest as the virus grew and restrictions increased, I was also becoming more and more concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get back if something happened to one of my family members. Living apart from my two younger brothers and sister for the last couple of years, I also thought this may be the only opportunity I have to share the mundane minutes and hours of life with them again, and not just summer holidays and birthday dinners.
I had visions of us, all now in our 20s, reverting back to our angsty teenage years, or even worse a relentless version of our grumpy hungover afternoons at Christmas, but we’ve shocked ourselves by never having argued less with each other. I think if you come of age in a world that seems to be defined by instability and chaos, it gives you a lot of perspective on what you truly value.
Looking at the state of affairs, even before this virus hit, it’s hard to be happy about what’s happening around the world at the moment – whether it’s climate change, Brexit, or the neverending and inconceivable actions of the Trump administration. Yet despite the “snowflake millennials” narrative that gets so much traction, I see incredible resilience in my friends and siblings. A resilience, in the face of a future on hold, to grab hold of moments of joy when we can. This week it’s been eight hours on a dear friend’s Zoom hen party (I woke up in my dress so it felt like a real night out), and my younger brother’s new (atrocious) mullet.
The UK, my beloved second home, now has one of the highest death tolls in Europe at more than 41,600. It's painfully clear to me that the initial bravado from the government did people no favours in containing the virus. It has taken the coronavirus crisis for a conservative prime minister Boris Johnson to admit that "there really is such a thing as society", finally countering Maggie's affirmation of pure individualism.
Having worked in politics in the UK for the past couple of years, marked by division and adversary particularly through Brexit, I've come to greatly appreciate the communitarian mentality I grew up with in Ireland. With our islands so inextricably linked I wonder what our shared future will look like in the wake of this crisis.
There are certain things that really let you know you are home. For instance when I watched the news at 6pm on RTÉ for the first time when I got back, to my surprise the harrowing reports were followed by an inspirational poem. "Can a poem be news?" my confused newly arrived brain asked. I brushed away a quick tear and concluded that it can.