I don’t talk much about vacations. I like my time off to really be time off, and that means I don’t do anything on social media. So, to get you all up to speed, I just returned to Vancouver from a three-week holiday in Ireland.
It’s been a wonderful, strange, happy, and painful time. I saw so many friends I’ve missed, I spent time with my family, and got to meet all the new babies. We split our time between Tipperary, Limerick and Cork, and that meant driving a lot.
I was home.
There is so much that goes into such a simple statement. Being home. Sometimes I wonder if I really love my country, in spite of all that it is, and this trip made me realize that I don’t have the choice of loving or hating it. It’s in my bones, buried so deeply and so completely that loving or hating it is too simple an expression of how I feel about it. It envelopes me like a cloak, every inch of it familiar and close. It is the rock under my feet, the anchor of my being, and the place and time that shaped me. It is home, on a level I can’t possibly describe, and it will always be home.
Canada, of course, is something different; I can say that I love Canada, and I love Vancouver. But I chose it, and I don’t regret choosing it. I never chose to be Irish.
Being an emigrant is one thing, but being an emigrant and Irish is another. There is a history, a legacy, of Irish emigration that is difficult to describe. Since the time of An Gorta Mór (that’s the Famine, in English), we’ve left our land behind and remade ourselves in another out of necessity. Time was that friends and family would hold a wake, for those who were leaving, because it was akin to death; those who left, to risk the trip to America or even further, would never see Ireland again. They would never see their kin again.
Today, in 2018, the Irish diaspora – those who claim Irish citizenship, or Irish descent – are spread all over the world and number over 80 million, according to Wikipedia.
Being home has made me realize that simply being Irish is a privilege, and being able to return home at all is another. I stood on the soil of my homeland, and grieved for its lost sons and daughters. I think that they must have felt as I do, connected to this small, insignificant island on the edge of Europe; loving it and hating it in equal measure, always wanting to be home. All the old songs, of being far from Ireland and yearning to be back there, suddenly made sense, and they hurt. Everything about it is complex and strange and indescribable in many ways.
After all this, I’ve learned that I will always wish that I could go back. I’ll never lose my accent, or forget what I am, no matter how long I live in Canada. But like all the Irish emigrants before me, I made my choice, and I know that my place is here. My future is here.
I have a piece of Connemara marble on my desk. Like Ireland, it has a hundred thousand shades of green that you just can’t find anywhere else. Maybe home is something you have to carry with you, when you leave. Maybe that will be enough.