I’ve left my Irish limbo. But Northern Ireland is stuck with the Twelfth of July
I got a message from a friend despairing of the ferryful of lagered-up men singing sectarian songs on the boat from Scotland, bonfires bigger than houses blocking streets, and the atmosphere of hate and fear
Maeve Rafferty: waiting to hear about her green card
Fanning the flames: the Eleventh Night fire at the New Mossley estate in Belfast, the largest bonfire in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty
I dreamed last week of swimming with cattle in a river in Fermanagh. I’m from Tyrone, the next county over, but spent a lot of my working week in and around the Erne, treading water, during my 18 months of limbo – the time it took for my then fiance and I, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, to get me back to US soil. To Pittsburgh, where he and I first pruned trees together four years ago.
I never swam with cattle, and I don’t suppose it’s the safest activity. In my dream I ran through the possibilities of what the black shapes in the water could be. Porpoises? Dolphins? Seals? Giant mink? I was as nonchalant as they were about the whole thing when I discovered that they were cows.
It’s the very simple things I miss about home. There are cattle in Pennsylvania, even grass-fed ones, but I’d have to go looking for them here, whereas in Ireland I never had to.
I got upset last night at dinner, because the potatoes in the potato salad I had lovingly prepared tasted like watery soap. My father wouldn’t eat these, and neither will I, I said. My husband, no stranger to these strops, continued to chomp.
This morning I found out that Donald Trump, who recently referred to illegal Mexican immigrants in the US as “rapists”, is in joint lead with Jeb Bush to be the Republican candidate for president. I’m in the US legally, although nine months after applying for a green card I’m still waiting here, ready to steal someone’s job when I get the chance. In the meantime, perhaps I should be contemplating a life of crime, to make ends meet.
This week I got a long message from a good friend, an Englishwoman who has made Northern Ireland her home, despairing of the ferryful of lagered-up men singing sectarian songs on the boat from Scotland, bonfires bigger than houses blocking streets, and the atmosphere of hate and fear that the Twelfth of July triggers.
By coincidence my husband and I spent the Eleventh Night watching the film ’71, about a British soldier separated from his unit on Falls Road in Belfast during a night of rioting in 1971. I’m a 1970s child, but nostalgia was not one of the emotions that gripped me on the sofa.
I looked at a patch of sky last night after my potato rage, a hole in the gloom – pale, pale grey and etched with white semicircles that seemed like the last traces of vanishing clouds. A chimney swift swivelled this way and that through the opening, a little early for the dusk screaming party with its kin around their summer colony in the old church tower of St Mary’s.
Both swift and sky reminded me of being “stuck” in Ireland and “homesick” for Pittsburgh, and of how I consciously took note of every wild flower I saw in Fermanagh, every beautiful sky over the Ormeau Bridge in Belfast, of how I’d go to bed at night and get up in the morning in my redbrick terraced lodging in the city to the cries of the swifts, and hold on to the experience as something unique to that place and time.
And there I was, gazing at a swift from the back garden in Pittsburgh, at one of those tiny birds that stay airborne most of their lives and cross continents to breed, those birds with two homes that are really just one and the same sky.