‘I’ve missed weddings, funerals, birthdays... but emigrating is what it is’
‘Ireland and Me’: Nicola Monahan, Montana
Nicola Monahan: ‘The only Irish accent I hear now is my own; I have never met another Irish person here.’
Last November, The Irish Times invited readers abroad to submit reflections on their relationship with the land they left. The story below is one we received, which is collected in an 'Ireland and Me' eBook.
Making the decision to leave Ireland seven years ago was an absolute wrench. I knew what I was leaving behind, the irreplaceable friends I’ve had since school and the family that has nurtured me from day one. I wouldn’t be watching nieces and nephews grow up, I wouldn’t be there to help aging parents when the day comes.
When the time came to leave, amid the backslapping and tears, one piece of advice I was given has stayed with me: it will be what you make it. Hardly profound, but this has guided me through the bad times.
Emigrating really is what you make it. I decided to love my adopted country from day one. I deal with homesickness in a rational way, I think it through and I move on. I do not dwell on the birthdays and holidays spent away from family.
I feel pain and loneliness. I feel the distance in my heart. I have missed so many milestones already: communions, confirmations, funerals, weddings, big birthday bashes. But, it is what it is. I live in Montana now.
Moving to Montana felt like another planet at first. The food, the people, the weather, and oh my God everyone drives so slow on roads the size of runways. The only Irish accent I hear now is my own; I have never met another Irish person here.
I cling to every tiny piece of Irishness I come across as something precious and sacred. The other night watching a film with my husband, I proudly declared “that’s Liam Neeson, he’s Irish” as my weary husband replied “yes, I know, you’ve told me”. Many times apparently.
Living in Montana, there’s a lot to love. The people are warm and unpretentious, the scenery and wildlife breathtaking at every turn. Of course, Montana regularly reminds me that I am not a local. When going camping in Fethard-on-Sea as a child, we never had to pack bear spray. I never remember my father bringing a shotgun in case an errant mountain lion wandered in to camp. I never had to wear factor 50+ sunscreen during those rainy two weeks in Lahinch in July. Not once did I swat a mosquito on my leg and wonder if maybe now I have West Nile Virus. Ah, summer in Ireland… it might be raining but at least you’re at the top of the food chain.
Making the most of my new home while still holding on to my Irishness has worked well for me. It’s so different here; I drive a car the size of the average Rathmines bedsit and get called Nicole-a every day, but it is home. I achieved things here that I never could in Ireland - a university education, a promising career, a beautiful home that I can actually afford. Montana’s been good to me, and I have no regrets.