How much I have missed this place, this island, my homeland

My list of all the things I love about being back in Ireland has resonated around the world

‘Just a month back, living in the house left to me by my mother, I’ve been buoyed by what I’ve encountered so far.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘Just a month back, living in the house left to me by my mother, I’ve been buoyed by what I’ve encountered so far.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

Coming back to Ireland after 30 years in London filled me with dread. The return is due to a mix of the loss of a 20-year love, my mother’s death here this summer and, yes, Brexit. The rapid accumulation of such bad news in just a few short months means that now my beloved North London house is “sale agreed” and, barring a few trips for packing, I now find myself back where I was born.

I was one of the wave of 1980s emigrants, leaving what then seemed like a worn-out Dublin then a job free landscape. I embraced life in London, loved the sheer size and scale of it, its multiculturalism, the abundance of the best of everything on your doorstep (if you could afford it). I had a ball as I worked hard and rose up the ladder at the BBC. I rented. I bought. I sold. I bought again and finally settled down. So I thought.

So here I am back where I started. House-hunting. Job hunting. Older, wiser, and facing a new start in an old place. I’m fully aware of all the downsides here - people shut out of the housing market, those sleeping on the streets, beef farmers up in arms, child and elderly care in crisis, drug feuds and gangland killings - so no rose-tinted spectacles here. But just a month back, living in the house left to me by my mother, I’ve been buoyed by what I’ve encountered so far.

A prolific tweeter and Facebook user, I posted an off-the-cuff list of those small encounters, those passing moments that have coalesced into a wonderful, warm embrace from Ireland. Over the weekend the post garnered 12,000 likes and brought thousands of new followers. I’d hit a nerve, it seems. Irish, Irish-Americans, Irish in Britain, Australia, Germany, South Africa replied with appreciation, joy, telling me that I’d “nailed it”. I’m overwhelmed by the response. It’s not a poem: it’s list of small things but they make this island and its people, great.

The raised finger of thanks as you let another motorist pass
The unpredictable twists and turns of a story, told by friends and relatives 
The rigidness of a fish, freshly caught and straight from Howth
The emptiness of the motorway, heading Westwards
The sight of the first stone walls, heading Westwards
The mirror of the lakes, entrancing the eyes
The sounds on 'The South Wind Blows' on a Saturday night, in front of a turf fire
The Dublinese of my Spanish neighbour’s four-year-old son
The devotion to the dead
The instant karma when you chat to a newly-made friend on the daily beach walk
The dish of fruit crumble brought by a neighbour for no other reason but “ah sure, I had a bit left over and you and your aunt might like it"
The taste of Barry’s Tea after a bite of a good, salty sausage
The local shopkeepers saying your first name as if you’re already part of the village
The civil servant, missing a bit of her lunch break, who stayed on to fill in my immigrant details
The softness of the fur of an adoring ginger cat, a neighbour’s, whose daily visits always coincide with a mood dip, instantly lifting me
The security guard at Dublin Castle offering to hold my drink as I took a snap
The gentle hands laid on mine as I’m introduced to the locals as “Emer’s daughter, back from that London” 
The strong shoulders of neighbour Joe, helping to clear out my mam’s house
The half-embarrassed invites for a pint by those I’ve known for years on Twitter and Facebook but never met, now made flesh with backslaps and hugs in Grogan’s and Keogh's
The laugh of a traffic warden when she knows your UK reg car, badly parked, is a lost cause to the council
The anticipation as a beautifully drawn pint settles in front of you
The sight of a distant, elderly cousin of Tom Cruise riding his Dublin GAA flag bedecked bicycle on the back roads
The lowering of the voice when something supposedly secret is lovingly shared 
Laughing myself silly at the poetic profanity of the "mattress in the bog" video
The teenage shop assistant carrying an apple tart out to the car, linking arms with my aunt and chatting away as if they were best friends
Brexit hilarity in a pub as you are welcomed back as a "just in time" returner
Picking up, 30 years later as if I had never left, with old friends
The breadth and depth of language used with such ease by barstool companions or the man putting in the new oven
Listening to The Whileaways, Soak, The Pillow Queens, Fontaines DC and Lisa Hannigan for the first time
Putting on the full beams at night as I negotiate the narrow roads back to the village
The “There you are!” as the rudest barman in the world pretends he hasn’t missed you but really has
The twilight over the Irish Sea while standing on the North Beach

How much I have missed this place, this island, my homeland. 
How much.

Helen O’Rahilly is a former BBC One executive, creative director for factual TV, and BBC TV editor. She tweets @HelenORahilly

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