‘Home for me is a mindset, and I've found mine in London’
Generation Emigration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition entry: Catherine Kavanagh, London
Catherine Kavanagh: ‘I had returned to an Ireland I didn’t recognise... try as I might, I couldn’t identify with this race to the top of the South Dublin cul de sac or the Montessori waiting list.’
I’ve always harboured an ambivalent relationship towards England. By dint of my father’s job I was born in Oxford in the early 70s, and was promptly evacuated Home, I suspect to avoid indoctrination. I use Home as a proper noun as the lexicon used by Irish emigrants everywhere.
Growing up in Ireland in the late 1970s and ‘80s meant nurturing a pantomime hostility towards our nearest neighbours. This surfaced rabidly during springtime, when the Irish were regularly bullied around Lansdowne Road or Twickenham by the men in white shirts, but melted away when much-loved family members appeared for rare holidays to Dublin with their Melton Mowbray accents, my Terenure-bred uncle and his royalist proud English wife.
But that Irish ambivalence towards all things English began to trouble me as I grew older and developed a strong English circle of friends. My career in finance made me realise the positives of having a huge cultural and economic superpower next door. I couldn’t reconcile the grudge.
A two year stint in Australia during the Celtic Tiger had given me an appetite for life away from Home. I had returned to an Ireland I didn’t recognise, with a resurgent rugby team, a dynamic economy and an increasing frenzy amongst my peer group towards life goals like property ownership and marriage. Try as I might, I couldn’t identify with this race to the top of the South Dublin cul de sac or the Montessori waiting list.
Eventually in 2010 after a lot less soul searching than anyone would believe, I took a decision to move away from the sinking morass that was then Home, and seek a future elsewhere.
London has been my new Home since 31st January 2011. I have truly found my place. Home for me is a mindset. I cherish my Irish heritage, my culture and my value system. Unusually for a Londoner, I go to funerals and look colleagues in the eye when they return to work white-faced and silent following family bereavements.
I host regular dinner parties while many Londoners socialise in restaurants or bars. That’s brought its own benefits. People comment on my Irish paintings, my obsession with Lyon’s Tea. “No PG Tips in this house!”
I volunteer with charities and ensure I nurture my close friendships with a deeply-cherished set of other Londoners. We refer to ourselves as the “urban family”.
I adore the rush and the single-minded deadly ambition of this city. I think it speaks to the innate Irish value system of hard work and adapting to the unfamiliar. We’ve had enough practice at that over the past 800 years thanks to the erstwhile habits of said superpower.
The traditional Dublin greeting “How are ya” rather than “hello” always elicits a quizzical “I’m fine thank you”, which invariably makes me laugh. That has lightened the mood on more than one occasion.
Home for me is resolutely Irish of spirit, but I’m proud to be a Londoner.