‘I am a Londoner. I am Irish. I’ve never before felt a conflict between the two’
Most upsetting for me as an Irishwoman in the UK is the division Brexit has created
‘The constant conversations about Brexit and the backstop, forcing me to feel more Irish than ever, have turned me into an unwilling history teacher.’ Photograph: Tom Andrews
I am, amongst other things, a Londoner. I am also Irish. I have never before felt a conflict between these two.
My identity, as an emigrant, has always felt like a series of concentric circles emanating from my core - neat, cohesive, complementary. I could be all things at once - Irish, a Londoner, European, a global citizen: layer upon layer, building on each other to create the woman I am.
But the peaceful co-existence of these identities has been shattered of late, by the beast that is Brexit. I am now living in an unfortunate Venn diagram. And that bit in the middle where the circles overlap? The Tory government is threatening to build a checkpoint on it.
As the extended Article 50 deadline looms, I feel uniquely insulated, and yet profoundly vulnerable all at once. Those of us who are Irish living in the UK seem like some sort of European unicorns, thanks to the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland. We are uniquely safe, with reassurances that we will remain welcome in our adopted home post-Brexit, and yet will retain the coveted burgundy passports of the EU.
Conversely, I am painfully aware that my home country is bracing for significant economic fall-out from Brexit; my family, my friends and my community set to bear the brunt.
Of course, more startling than any financial ramifications is the heartbreaking notion of a hard border on the island, and the terrifying prospect that fresh violence in the North may be stoked - the latter a painful possibility many of our friends on the bigger island cannot quite appreciate.
Yet, most upsetting for me as an Irishwoman in the UK, is the division this political climate has created between me and those around me.
Like everyone else in this city, I have been glued to the news updates from Westminster in recent days, hanging on every word, desperate to know the fate of this country - and feeling increasingly aghast at the chaos unfolding. Along with a million others, I marched for a People’s Vote just weeks ago, and am as guilty as any of the hand-wringing rampant among my liberal Remainer echo chamber.
So I was as shocked as I was heartbroken when a British friend recently remarked “it’s okay for you - if things get really bad, you can just leave”.
I had never before considered myself separate from the future of the city I call home.
The constant conversations about Brexit and the backstop, forcing me to feel more Irish than ever, have turned me into an unwilling history teacher.
I’ve become adept at delivering quickfire summaries of the Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement to anyone who will listen, in the pub or at the office - filling in, admittedly with the help of Google, where the British school curriculum seems to have left significant gaps.
Perhaps inevitably, while crafting this tale of “us and them”, I feel my neatly arranged twin identities pulled asunder by my own words, and I struggle to straddle this new divide in my life.
I have become an unwilling narrator in a reductive tale I do not want to tell.