‘The majority of us won’t call Ireland home again’
Making a life in another country is about much more than missing Barry’s tea or curry chips, writes Philip Lynch
Buried amid our emigration statistics lie myriad untold stories of dislocation, separation and success. Perhaps all this talk about diaspora is an attempt to engender some sense of connectedness amongst us Irish who went away. If so, the Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan will have his work cut out; and if the process yields something positive, that can only be a good thing.
Opting to go is big. It’s so much more than missing out on Ma’s Christmas turkey again or longing for Barry’s tea or curried chips or whatever else may take your fancy. Or, dare I say it, at the risk of being branded some kind of blackguard, the craic.
Going is loaded alright.
It hardly matters if our farewells are low-key sombre affairs or if the Guinness-induced wisdom is flowing freely and there’s back-slapping and all the best wishes that add the exuberance of the occasion.
Why, even the destination of the would-be emigrant is almost irrelevant; whether it’s London or Melbourne or Bogota. For, once we leave the country, we are now an Irish person abroad – destined to juggle both our country of birth and our adopted one in our minds. Nor does it even matter if the going is willing or reluctant – the end result is always the same. Our parallel living has begun almost before we’ve realised it.
Put bluntly, emigration is an absolute game changer, when everything we’ve grown up with is turned on its head. And so many of us Irish have had first-hand experience of this over the last decade or so.
While modern day emigration may lack the trauma of the mass exits of say, the mid-19th century, irrespective of the mode of our travel, it cannot be denied that so many of us are set apart for the rest of our days. What’s often overlooked is that the ease of jumping on a plane stands in stark contrast to what our departure signifies.
Emigration isn’t for everyone and I understand why some elect to return home after a year or two or even a little longer. I can’t imagine some of my brothers and sisters ever living abroad. But I also get why the vast majority of us won’t get to call Ireland home again. This isn’t necessarily a lament it’s just a statement of fact. Often, the reality is that the longer we’re away, the less likely we are to ever go back. For many migrants, living in Ireland is akin to frolicking in a swimming pool, and once you’ve had a dip in the ocean, any return to the pool will forever be fraught.
With all the effort and energy that’s required to rebuild a new life abroad, no wonder we are loath to fold our hand and return to a country that wasn’t offering many opportunities.
So, for us lifers, visits home again often are just to reconnect with loved ones and acquaintances; and retracing and reimagining the memories of our formative years. But while we’re away, changes are already underway and the going back never really gets beyond a temporary or superficial status. On such visits we find ourselves, self-editing and, though we’d never admit it, often keeping our thoughts and insights to ourselves. I quickly learnt that much of the details of my life in Australia was of little relevance or interest to the folk back home.
Even though I have never been one to seek out other Irish abroad, chance encounters are invariably refreshing and I’m always surprised at how easy it is to establish rapport with a fellow countrywoman or man.
I’m reluctant to make much mention about my modest milestones of half a lifetime in Australia. I think my migrant journey is essentially unremarkable. There’s no particular call for me to shout out anything from the rooftops. Instead I’ll just say I’m doing okay – or perhaps to slip into the vernacular, I should say I’m grand. My health is fine – or there’s not a bother on me at all.
Beyond a smattering of rudimentary gaeilge, my Australian- born loom band obsessed daughter is still too young to have much of an interest in matters Irish. But no doubt that will change into the future. I’m quietly biding my time until that day, and then we will go back there together.