‘I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I would leave’

Generation Emigration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition entry: Marc de Faoite, Malaysia

I left Ireland two days after my graduation. It was 1989. I was 21. I have never lived in Ireland since and the gaps between my visits “home” have long since lengthened into years.

I don’t miss Ireland. At least not all that much. I’ll admit there are times when nostalgia gnaws my gut, but like the occasional bout of indigestion it passes.

I’ll read the occasional article from The Irish Times to have some idea what my parents are talking about when we chat on Skype, but the news rarely affects my life directly. It’s more like updates on some long running TV show that I’ve long since stopped watching.

Sometimes I shake my head in resignation at the shenanigans that go on, but no country is perfect, and despite everything Ireland is better than most when it comes to the silly things politicians do or say.

When I was a child, sex seemed like some kind of fiction - something I only read or heard about, without experiencing myself. Similarly nowadays Ireland holds a certain unreality for me. When I return to visit I am simultaneously reassured and vaguely surprised that the place still really exists.

Most of the time Ireland is no longer a place, but more a specific set of feelings or emotions, or a collection of imprecise images and memories in the cluttered cupboard of my mind.

Often it’s the smells that come back, sometimes with surprising clarity: the acridity of ash trees and the nettles in a ditch, the frosty morning steaming sweetness of a big pile of manure, the metallic tang of rotting winter leaves in Stephen’s Green, the smell of a muddy rain-filled pothole, the musty perfume of old women and wooden pews in the local church, an uncle’s whiskey tainted breath, or the not unpleasant odour of stale beer and dirty ashtrays at opening time in the local pub.

Things change. When I step into a busy pub now I am surprised the fug of warm bodies is accompanied by the homely waft of cooking. Gone is the all-embracing pall of cigarette smoke, the smell of rain-wet woollen clothes.

In Ireland I’m an outsider. It’s not that things have changed, or that I am a different person now, though both these things are true. I was an outsider long before I ever left. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I would leave.

Perhaps if I had grown up in present-day Ireland I wouldn’t have had the same desire to go. It’s a much more tolerant and open-minded country than the one I left - the type of place I could almost live in, if it wasn’t for the weather.

But I’m gone too long now to consider a return. My life is elsewhere and has been my entire adult life. Whether in Ireland or abroad I am an outsider looking in. But I know, no matter where I am, that I will always still be Irish.

Marc de faoite has lived in London, Brussels, France, India, and now in Malaysia. He wrote previously for Generation Emigration 'Moving back to Ireland is not in my plan, but none of it ever was'

This article was received as an entry into the Generation Emgiration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition.

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