March as a month that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day and so the grá for gatherings, chats, craic and all that wonderful energy that the Irish bring, also happens to be an emotional one for those who are far from their beloved abhaile.
Why we become most patriotic when away, and what it feels to return to the Emerald Island…read the story of our own Aisling and let us know what feelings Ireland awakens in you.
------------------------------------ - - - - - - - - -
For hundreds of years travel and the Irish have gone hand in hand. In the mid 1800’s people would board ships bound for New York with a 12 week journey ahead just for the opportunity of survival. If they managed to make it off these coffin ships they took whatever jobs they could, usually very low paying and lived in literal slums. It sounds terrible, but the option of work and being able to put food on the table however little it was, was more than they had in Ireland. In the 1840s our tiny island was responsible for almost half of all immigrants entering America, HALF. Add in other destinations like England and Australia and more people left Ireland than make up our current population. A LOT more.
Fast forward to the early 1900’s and the numbers have lowered considerably. The famine no longer plays a part in everyday life, but still there’s very little work or opportunities for young people. What was months on a ship is now a 7-10 day journey. It’s still expensive but now we have the benefit of relatives already there who can pay for the ticket, this was so common it’s actually a question on the form once they arrived in Ellis Island. In the late 1950s my grandparents both left Ireland for London separately, met in a dance hall in Camden and naturally, married soon after.
By that point leaving Ireland wasn’t necessarily the last time you would see the homeland, like it usually was just years before. My grandparents went home for a couple of weeks every summer when the kids were young, a quick ferry from coast to coast. The kids would get the fresh air and farm life, then eventually be persuaded into the car to head back to Tottenham. After about 10 years my Grandad grew tired of London and decided it was time to head home. My Nan was less keen. In Tottenham they had already upgraded from their first house (bought for £5,000…different times). They had 3 kids, a constant stream of boarders, a little Irish community and Grandad had consistent work as a builder. So what was it? Did he miss calving season? Was he sick of British tea? Were his kid’s English accents the straw that broke the camel’s back for a proud Irishman? Unfortunately I can’t ask him. Nan says he just got it into his head that he wanted to go home and to be honest, I get it.
After I finished college in NUIG I wanted to go DO something, I wanted adventure free of exam stress and away from my hometown. I spent the next almost 10 years in and out of London making friends for life, growing up and having some of the most insane and excellent experiences. In the last couple of years though, I started to feel a distance grow between London and myself. Maybe the seven year itch applies to more than marriages, but the shine was definitely wearing off. I love city life but it was relentless. There were very few breaks from the noise, traffic, public transport and let’s be honest – people. People everywhere at all times. Though I was always excited for trips home to Galway, they became the thing that kept me going.
Every time we came through the clouds towards Knock airport I would count the ringforts in vast green fields, my blood pressure lowering with each one I spotted. The relief as we would turn down our tree lined road and finally pull up to the house, breathing a deep breath of fresh country air and hearing….. nothing. A couple of birds chirping, maybe a donkey in a nearby field looking for attention, the kettle boiling (ideally), but that’s it. PEACE. After a couple of journeys in a row feeling such strong relief I began to think… maybe it’s time to head back? It’s always difficult being away from family when things are going on at home. People get sick, get married, move house, I’ve always been someone who needs to help out so not being at home to get stuck in moved further up my list of stresses.
There’s an air of banter and community that floats down the streets of Ireland. It’s more than politeness. It’s giving the delivery driver a free ice-cream while he waits for the person who needs to sign for a parcel. It’s having an hour left on your carpark ticket so offering it to the next person coming in. It’s not just giving someone directions, it’s “Sure that’s not far from where I’m going, you can follow me!”. These things are not universal, I think it’s something built into the Irish culture and I really missed it. Being from the West of Ireland I also took for granted always being no more than 30 minutes from a walk on the beach. Sure, it was probably bucketing down rain, or windy enough to slice you in half but STILL. Either “the grass really needed the rain” or “there’s great drying out!”, always a positive spin. The Irish craic is also a unique phenomenon. For example you really haven’t experienced a session in Ireland until you’ve been rammed in a tiny pub in the middle of nowhere, listening to two lads on a guitar and a flute playing Proud Mary with dance moves Tina herself would be impressed by.
Nothing has made me more patriotic about my home than being away from it. There are so many elements to our culture and our little island that really make it like nowhere else on earth. I think it’s partly because of our history and what we’ve gone through, but mostly it’s just in our DNA. It may be the rose tinted glasses speaking but I’ll take a Tayto sandwich and a mug of tea any day of the week.
*sticks kettle on*