I promised myself I’d be back soon. That was 20 years ago

My nostalgia is gone. My accent is weird. The homesickness is under control. The US is now home

‘The question of going home comes up occasionally, but it’s more likely Ireland will remain a place to visit, take in, reconnect, but not to stay.’

‘The question of going home comes up occasionally, but it’s more likely Ireland will remain a place to visit, take in, reconnect, but not to stay.’

 

In 1994, I was one of 10,000 Irish kids who won a Morrison visa, kissed their parents goodbye, and began a new life in the States. Leaving Ireland was a great adventure, a part of growing up, but it was never meant to be a long term prospect. Ireland was home.

Upon my arrival, a friend recommended me for a job. The manager of The Dubliner, a restaurant on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, said if I had experience, I could start right away.

“Oh,” my friend said, “Sure, she has a ton of experience.”

And that was it, the job was mine. I would be a waitress.

By 11.30am every working day, The Dubliner would be heaving with political lawyers, lobbyists, interns, politicians, and national and international reporters. They came to thrash out the world’s woes, with the Fury brothers playing in the background, an obligatory Dubliner ale in hand, and perhaps a portion of corn beef and cabbage.

A few weeks in, I met an older Irish couple who were having lunch before getting a flight back to Ireland. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon and they were eager to chat. I couldn’t figure out what type of accent they had. It was a queer mix of Irish and American. They were on their way back to Waterford to buy a retirement house, they said, to spend more time in Ireland, a month or two here and there.

“We came here 40 years ago, just like yourself now,” the wife told me, pulling her cardigan around her. “I remember it well.”

“And then we bought a pub in mid-town and worked our asses off for the next 40 years,” the husband said.

“Would you not go back and relax, after 40 years?” I asked them.

“We wouldn’t. We’ve a business ta look after,” the husband was quick on that one.

I remember thinking they were very sad people, frail, tired, and broken after years of toiling in the States, all for what? To return to the place of their birth to spend a few weeks each year before they died, and with a very messed up accent? I thought it was the saddest thing I had seen.

Forty years.

I promised myself I would be back home soon enough, four months maybe, and I’d guard my accent like a priceless jewel. After all, I was just on an adventure.

That was over 20 years ago.

Life went into fourth gear, I scored a job with Guinness USA, a husband, then four children and a huge dog came into the fold. Those life changers put a different direction on an adventure.

My nostalgia is gone. My accent is weird. The homesickness is under control, so much so, I don’t bawl at Christy Moore’s Ordinary Man any longer.

The question of going home comes up occasionally, but it’s more likely Ireland will remain a place to visit, take in, reconnect, but not to stay.

Sure weren’t the old couple as happy as Larry taking off to buy a little retirement home in Ireland, fulfilling a dream after a life well lived? They were doing everything they ever wanted. There was no need for my misunderstood tears for them. I get that now.

Lara O’Brien, who is originally from Howth in Co Dublin, now lives and writes in Martha’s Vineyard. laraobrien.com

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