‘Tea is a wonderful reminder of home even if it is an awful cliché’

Generation Emigration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition entry: Niall McArdle, Ontario, Canada

Niall McArdle: ‘I have become the emigrant version of the old biddy who reads the death notices; instead of looking to see who died this week, I’m looking to see who left.’

Niall McArdle: ‘I have become the emigrant version of the old biddy who reads the death notices; instead of looking to see who died this week, I’m looking to see who left.’

 

I have a stash of Barry’s Tea recently brought to me from the old country. It’s a special treat to sip it while looking at the snow falling outside. You can actually buy it in shops in Canada but getting it that way feels wrong. It’s too easy; drinking it wouldn’t have the same sense of occasion.

For years I’d actually almost forgotten how much I missed Barry’s Tea until I heard it mentioned on, of all things, Boardwalk Empire. The tea is a wonderful reminder of home even if it is an awful cliche.

Then again, more than ten years gone I myself am an awful cliche: the Despondent Exile. I prick up my ears when I hear an Irish accent, and people I might not otherwise give a second glance have to suffer my persistent cloying attention as I press them for information about anything at all as long as it’s to do with “home”: where they’re from back home; the weather back home; do they get to go back home often?

A few weeks ago I went to see an Irish show that was touring Canada - Echoes of Erin - put on by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. It was very good: there was ceol, caint agus craic, but let’s be honest, if I was still living in Dublin it’s the sort of thing I’d run a mile from.

During the intermission I sidled up to the tour manager just so I could hear his voice. He was from Drogheda. The musicians and dancers were from tiny villages I’d never heard of. When I told him I was from Dublin he said “so’s our sound guy”, and sure enough, I went looking for him.

I don’t think of myself as an immigrant in Canada; I am an emigrant out of Ireland. I know that is a failure on my part. I stubbornly refuse to fit in and fully assimilate. Then again, how can I when people still struggle to pronounce my name? “Nails” could be an excellent moniker for a heavy from Love/Hate, but it just doesn’t suit me.

I swore I would never become this dreadful version of myself that I have become; a stodgy middle-aged Dubliner adrift in the world, forever looking back. I have a growing addiction to stories in Generation Emigration. I have become the emigrant version of the old biddy who reads the death notices; instead of looking to see who died this week, I’m looking to see who left this week.

So yes, Ireland, especially Dublin, will always be where I’m from. The awful stink of Booterstown at low tide is the last thing I thought I would miss about the place, but it’s the first thing I think about when I think about home.

And the Pigeon House, of course. I’d cut down a hundred crosses on Carrauntoohil, as long as I could keep those two hideous red and white striped chimneys. They are my emblems of home.

This article was received as an entry into the Generation Emgiration 'Ireland and Me' competition. To be in with a chance of winning a hamper of Irish goodies, email your piece about your relationship with the old country in under 500 words, with a pic, before this Friday December 5th to emigration@irishtimes.com.

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