‘After 30 years away from Ireland, I’m now an Aussie of sorts’
I often look back, but won’t ever return to live in the country I grew up in, writes Philip Lynch
Philip Lynch: ‘My Irishness is seriously on the wane. Such is the inevitable fate for many of us long-term migrants.’
I’m not Irish anymore. It’s not as if I’ve had a falling out with Ireland. There’s hardly any angst at all. We’ve simply drifted apart with the passage of time.
I was once a culchie. I hail from rural Westmeath. That was back in the day when heading off to Granard mart with my dad to sell a few bullocks was a day out to savour - or a bus trip up to Dublin was something really special. And like so many of my generation I had a fair smattering of gaeilge hammered into me at school. Abairti agus Aisti, anyone?
But now, after more than thirty years away, I’m an Aussie, of sorts.
I still have most of my brogue and my pale complexion, and I still struggle with “correct” pronunciations on pretty much a daily basis which bemuses others. But beyond that, my Irishness is seriously on the wane. Such is the inevitable fate for many of us long-term migrants.
This is no middle-aged elegy for my loss of cultural identity. But even though I often look back, as most migrants doubtless do, I can never really go back to Ireland in any true sense of the word. Far too much water has passed under that proverbial bridge. I’ve chosen to quit the country and my sense of belonging is now firmly ensconced Down Under.
Long term returning migrants like myself will always occupy an awkward space in the Irish social and political landscape. We may recognise some changes but we also draw a blank about so much more. It’s as if we’ve forfeited our toehold and we’re no longer any part of the Irish equation.
Observing the current furore about Irish Water’s intention to charge for water use from afar, I simply feel too removed from the issue to have an opinion. And Sinn Féin’s recent transformation into a political force in the Dáil holds little interest for me either.
We may know our way around - despite the ring roads and bypasses -when we arrive back in Ireland, yet we’ll still feel disjointed and displaced. Redundant is the word that probably sums up my state of mind. Maybe we’re tourists or migrants or simply visitors or an amalgam of all three?
Although we may easily sip a pint or two, or slip into the local lingo, our hearts can’t really rise to the occasion. After all, as soon as we arrive, we know the clock is already ticking. And we know that our return ticket and passport are always prominent among our possessions. We can’t help feeling that we’ve somehow assumed or even been assigned a remaindered status because we’ve left.
When I was growing up it was hard to imagine living in any other country. Other places were simply that; other places. Now that I’m no longer Irish, it’s equally difficult to imagine ever living in Ireland again. This is something I say without any particular rancour or regret. But by my early 20s, emigrating was an unavoidable reality.
But for all that, and despite its far-flung location at the other end of the world, Australia isn’t such a bad alternative. Even though it’s a country without much time for sentiment, the Irish are generally well-regarded here. Some of the tired old stereotypes about the Irish raise their ugly head from time to time. But for the most part we are as welcome here as the next person.
Not long after I arrived, a Polish workmate confidently assured me it took five years to know if you could settle into a new country. In retrospect, I think she was on the money. The first few years are beguiling, almost a novelty.
For me, there was the luxury of regular work and a sense that this country had so much on offer. Then the reality sets in and the time arrives when you have to make the decision to stay or go.
Anyhow, there is more than enough on the Australian political landscape to attract my attention. Our government remains oddly sceptical about the human contribution to climate change, for example. As the weather warms up we are entering bushfire season. And as in previous years, there are dire predictions about the likelihood of catastrophic fire in the days ahead.
Ah, the heat. It’s Australia’s harsh reminder that I’ve come a long way from home.
A home that’s no longer my home.