MY youngest has left Ireland and gone to London. It’s not much of an original story. In many ways it’s the most Irish story I know. But that doesn’t stop it getting to you.
Now, I’ve been reassured that the plan is to definitely come back to Ireland and as a parent you can only hang your hat on that. And, of course, we now have constant messaging and video calls and all
the ease of modern communication. Yet, there it is. You watch your child leave and go to another country and the emotions come. Anticipation, hope, sadness, and resentment.
A peculiar Irish resentment against this country and its inability to keep its own people. It’s own children.
What I’m feeling as a parent can only be the faintest echo of what generations of Irish parents have felt before me. I can’t imagine standing there waving goodbye as a child left knowing, at best, you might see them again in a few years time, or at worst, never again.
America meant probably never coming back again.
Britain meant, hopefully, coming back in the summer.
My grandmother had a son in America who left Ireland in the early fifties. He came back so rarely until he was much older that it became a sort of family joke. America in those days, you see, was so very, very far away. She talked about him so much. She had another son who lived a few streets away from us in Birmingham. This uncle of mine, for one reason or another, didn’t come home for over twenty years. That became something of a family legend. My own mother left Ireland at eighteen, went home every summer, but spent most of her adult life away from her own family. She moved back to Ireland in the late 1990s and still, to this day, has children in England.
So she has spent her entire adult life either living in a different country from her parents, brothers and sisters or her own children. Emigration and Ireland. How do you split them?
Of course we do not have the widespread dire poverty we once had and we do not have the repressive Catholic society we once had. We do, though, still have a few things. We have a housing crisis and we have our smallness. If you are young, in today’s world, Ireland is a small country in a much bigger world. A world that isn’t as far away as it once was. You then have too, emigration as part of the Irish consciousness.
I thought nothing of it a few years ago when my child went to a friend’s going away to Canada party. It seemed such a normal Irish thing that I didn’t take on board that all those far away places could directly feature in my family’s life too. Talking to a friend recently I told her I was finding it tough that my child was going to London but got short shrift when she told me her child was going to Australia. Emigration. It is our Irish curse.
I don’t really recall it being the same for the few English families I knew back there and then. There was the odd tale of an uncle in Australia but that was about it. It is so different in Ireland. Everyone here has family somewhere else. Almost as if leaving is part of our nature.
I’ve known nothing but growing up in an Irish immigrant family and then coming back to Ireland. I never knew, though, how that worked as a parent. I never knew how that felt. I never knew what you cling to as having the power to bring them back. You cling to the call of home and family. You cling to the wanting to be with those who reared you and know you best. You cling too to Ireland. This bloody country that breaks your heart and can’t keep its own children and never has done. This country run by and for a self-perpetuating few. This country where strangers say hello, how’s it going, what’s the craic, how are ya, grand day isn’t it? This beautiful, stop you in your tracks country. This come back Paddy Reilly, last night as I lay dreaming, if you ever go across the sea, why don’t you think about coming to visit, we’d all love to see you again, country.
It’s better now I tell myself, things have changed, most people come back home. They do. They will. They bloody well better.