‘This country has given me freedom, wonder and magic, plus the chance to provide for my family’

Born in Toronto and raised in Co Longford, I now live in Linares, a pueblo mágico, or magic town

Colin Carberry in Linares in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León where he now lives

Colin Carberry in Linares in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León where he now lives

 

Colin Carberry lives in the city of Linares, in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, with his wife, Verónica Garza Flores, and their two daughters, Kathleen and Emma Carberry Garza, who are 10 and six. He is an English teacher, poet and translator

Living in Linares, a Mexican pueblo mágico, or magic town, I am always asked how I ended up here. I was born in Toronto, in Canada, and raised in Lanesboro, in Co Longford. I spent most of my time with my mother’s parents, as my grandfather Thomas Harold was my riding instructor. A renowned figure in modern Irish equestrianism, he was also a consummate talker. A seanchaí with a taste for tall tales, he could charm an owl out of a tree.

I was always outdoors, playing in the ruins of Rathcline Castle or exploring Lough Ree and her islands in a borrowed rowing boat. A born escape artist, I would disappear when I was supposed to be performing or walking a course, but he knew my ways. “Find the nearest body of water,” he would say, “and there he’ll be, staring into a bog hole.”

As a boarder at St Mel’s College in Longford, I represented Ireland in showjumping. When a fellow pupil, a Gaelic footballer, whinnied at me, I reminded him: ‘You represent the county; I represent the country’

Once, during a working hunter class at the (Royal) Dublin Horse Show, my beautiful pony, Black Satin, broke his leg and was put down. As I cried on a bench, a tall, lean man patted my shoulder and consoled me. It was the Irish president, Dr Patrick J Hillery.

As a boarder at St Mel’s College in Longford town, I represented Ireland in showjumping events. When a fellow pupil, a Gaelic footballer, whinnied at me, I reminded him: “You represent the county. I represent the country.”

I returned to Canada in 1987, finished high school and enrolled at the University of Toronto. I began to publish my poetry to modest acclaim, but I was also depressed, entertaining suicidal thoughts and drinking what little money I had. A decade on, I was still reeling from the loss of my Irish paradise.

One night, in a Brampton bar, Guy Morgan suggested I visit a mutual friend, Victor Carrillo, whose father was dying. “He would appreciate your support,” he said, passing me an envelope. Shortly after, I flew to San Salvador and spent three months backpacking around the region. Learning of this, another friend, Darryl Carlysle, then a doctoral candidate, encouraged me to visit him. “You’re in the area,” he assured me. Two thousand kilometres and two attempted muggings later, I arrived in Linares.

Colin Carberry with his daughters Emma and Kathleen Carberry Garza (centre left and right) and his wife Verónica Garza Flores
Colin Carberry with his daughters Emma and Kathleen Carberry Garza (centre left and right) and his wife Verónica Garza Flores

Back in Toronto, I longed for Mexico, and for the remainder of that long, gruelling winter studied her history and literature in preparation for my return. Then, in February 2001, I boarded a Greyhound bus and 75 hours later was back in Linares.

I was checking emails one afternoon when a young woman invited me to a job interview at Colegio Linares. There, I met a charming young English teacher called Veronica Garza Flores. We have been married for 18 years married and have two beautiful daughters: Kathleen and Emma. Blessed am I among women!

Mexico has given me a sense of freedom, wonder and magic, together with the opportunity to own a house and a car, and to provide for my family’s needs. There is an Irish angle, too. Streets and schools are named after St Patrick’s Brigade, or Batallón de San Patricio, a group of (predominantly) Irish soldiers who joined the US army and switched sides during the 1846-48 Mexican-American War. Every year they are memorialised twice: on St Patrick’s Day and on September 12th, the anniversary of the execution of 50 San Patricios. A bust of their leader, Comandante John Riley, formerly of Clifden, Co Galway, sits on a pedestal in a park in San Angel, Mexico City.

One day, I will take my daughters to my part of Ireland, so they will remember the magical little place their daddy always talked of: his lost Irish paradise

Covid-19 has caused 222,000 deaths here to date. However, since the start of 2021, beginning with medical personnel, the elderly and teachers, some 28 million vaccines have been administered and 12 million people fully vaccinated (9.3 per cent of a population of 130 million). Many blame their fellow citizens for not taking sufficient sanitary precautions, but the truth is more complex: 50 million impoverished people have been forced to choose between staying at home or putting food on the table.

I have enjoyed this time with my family. Our daughters miss their friends and classmates but have adjusted well to life under lockdown. They take classes and karate lessons online, watch movies and play video games. On weekends, we bathe in Hualahuises River. My wife and I teach online, and I am working on a new book of poems. I just finished a narrative ballad that contains a humorous anecdote about my late grandmother, Kathleen Harold.

Karate kids: Kathleen and Emma Carberry Garza in Linares
Karate kids: Kathleen and Emma Carberry Garza in Linares

I left Lanesboro 32 years ago. Each day, at no particular time or place, some part of my brain will begin transmitting images, as though from a roving drone, of Cloontuskert, Rathcline, St John’s Church, my alma mater, Lough Ree, upon my inner eye. One day, I will take my daughters there, so that when I’m gone they, too, will remember that magical little place their daddy always talked of: his lost Irish paradise.

Ghost Homeland by Colin Carberry is published by Scotus Press

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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