‘I fear I’ll be disappointed when I get back to Ireland again’
I’m worried I’ll be at a loss, at a loose end like a displaced person, or worse, a tourist
‘It’s time to navigate through my middle-age without the angst; without looking over my shoulder and wondering how things might’ve been different.’
Australia is hardly nirvana. Plenty of people have it tough here. But for the most part, you are welcome to come if you are prepared to work hard; and if you get a decent job, you’ll do alright for yourself.
Our much-vaunted mining boom is on the decline but the Chinese still have an appetite for our iron ore and other minerals, and we don’t have the uncertainty that is Brexit looming large. Thankfully there are no significant Trump wannabes on our political horizon; though, one of his minor acolytes, Pauline Hanson, the leader of far-right fringe party, One Nation, looks set to play the role of kingmaker in the Queensland state election this week.
I’ve ended up down here in rural Tasmania, the poor cousin of mainland Australia; a place that’s just about as far away from Ireland as you can get. Maybe that’s saying something.
I used to think being adrift from Ireland was the domain of old lassies and blokes, broken and bunkered down in grimy digs and bedsits, all over England and America. Especially old blokes, at the end of their working days and too far gone to summon up the courage to go back, even for a visit.
Now, three decades later, I’m not so sure. Long gone migrants like me are, no doubt, a disparate group that defy any generalisation. Many of us have forgotten the taste of a good Guinness. Some of us may maintain regular contact with Ireland, but others probably aren’t as fussed. Some of us have done alright and others probably curse the day they ever left Ireland. I suspect I sway somewhere in the middle.
Isn’t this modern-day emigration malarkey all about exploring exciting new frontiers; fecking off and making one’s mark abroad, and cutting a clean sward as we go? Aren’t we the Ryanair generation as someone so cutely once opined? Isn’t it about shaking off the auld sod, glossing over all those buried babies, and turning our backs on the begrudgers and the enduring small-mindedness? Isn’t going our opportunity to reinvent ourselves and to start afresh? Okay, maybe throw in the occasional hankering for a decent rasher or sausage or Ma’s soda bread; but that would be the height of it. What’s not to like?
My resistance to going back isn’t about the cost of the airfares. The price of long distance flying hasn’t changed much over the years. And anyway, it’s not so much about the physical distance. It’s more my need just to let things slide, to let things be. But I have no desire to join the queues at the check-in counters; to squash into aircraft seats or to wait patiently on tarmacs for take-offs, or to regard those smiling attendants explaining the safety drills and brandishing the plastic whistle like you could depend on it, in the event of a catastrophe.
It’s time to navigate through my middle-age without the angst; without looking over my shoulder and wondering how things might’ve been different. That boat was well and truly slipped out of the harbour. Middle-age brings adolescent children and a sense of mortality. Middle-age shifts superannuation calculations onto centre stage. I’m now just a few months shy of the age my father was, when we shook hands on the platform at Mullingar train station on that June morning. I thought of him as being already past his prime when I left, though I doubt he’d have agreed.
I fear I’ll be disappointed when I get back to Ireland again. I dread the dislocation. And I’m worried I’ll be at a loss, at a loose end like some kind of displaced person. Or that there will be too much to absorb and let go of again. Or worse, that I’ll simply be politely tip-toing around like some kind of overdressed tourist, biding my time until I head off back to my comfort zone, and my familiar surrounds.
Despite the uncertainty of what Brexit may bring, so far, it seems my old country is experiencing an economic renaissance; rebooting itself as the economy picks up again and there is a tidal wave of prosperity, at least for some. Ireland is brimming with a confidence not seen since, well, the last boom.
As the days lengthen and we enter into another summer here, I’ll be watching Ireland from afar and seeing how things pan out. Watching from the sideline - maybe it’s an Irish thing - something I haven’t quite managed to shed.