Where do you belong? The second-generation Irish question

Where do you belong? The second-generation Irish question

WHERE do you belong? Not where are you from or where are you living or where did you once call home or where do you now call home? Where do you belong?

Perhaps, for immigrants and the children of immigrants there is only ever a fleeting belonging.

‘Home’ is always somewhere else. Or, perhaps, home is always the place left.

Or, perhaps, home becomes the new place, the place that offers a life and a living and a family.

Perhaps Mayo or Cork or Bengal or St Kitts are always ‘home’. Or, perhaps, London or Glasgow or Birmingham become ‘home’.

Or, maybe, maybe, the places left and the places arrived in are forever mixed up together and ‘home’ remains forever just out of reach.

I was at a wedding recently in a city that was my ‘home’ for the first 20 years of my life and where my family lived for over 40 years.

It is the city whose accent I carry and whose football team I support with a fervour that seems to increase the more the years push me away from the place so that at times, I am once again the child whose first house was within minutes of the ground and who had a season ticket at 10 years of age that was my pride and joy.

Of course, I also had parents from another country and it was to that country we went every summer and were told we were going ‘home’ so that a sense of not quite knowing where I belonged began early.

Birmingham was home, its tight inner city streets, and Cork was a place called home too, where my grandmother and cousins and aunts and uncles lived and where my parents came from.

I’ve long since been happy with being both Irish and a Brummie, equally proud on both counts, but a sense of not quite belonging seeped in.

At the age of 20 I moved away and over the next 15 or so years I lived in a succession of English cities — Preston, Sheffield, Manchester, London, with brief periods back in Birmingham — but mainly enjoyed not being from the place I was in.

I liked being from somewhere else.

I came to Ireland with the idea that I might belong here and whilst I remain assured in my Irishness and happy to have reared a family here and been with my extended family here I was very much aware that I wasn’t from here too and once again I was happy to be from somewhere else.

I’m Irish but I’m not from Ireland. I’m a Brummie but I’m not English.

I have long since stopped wanting to belong. Not belonging is a good place and there is a realisation too that somehow it is other people you belong to and not a place.

Not that I was thinking much of this at the wedding.

I was just enjoying a beautiful wedding where my niece, my goddaughter, married an Englishman with an Irish name; where her father, the son of Irish immigrants himself, made a speech that in its quiet, understated dignity and emotion brought tears to our eyes and made us realise, as my sister put it, that there is a poet in everyone.

Where the Birmingham accents from people whose parents were English, from Cork, from Dublin, from St Kitts, echoed around me and there was reminiscing about inner city streets and vanished pubs and old football matches and a city we grew up in and a life we once had.

And just for a moment, as the night wore on and I stood talking at the bar, I thought, not so much that I was ‘home,’ not so much that this was where I was from or where I grew up or that all these voices were how my voice sounded back on Irish lanes and hills.

All of that, yes, all of that flickered through my mind.

The drink flowed and the young people looked beautiful and young, and the older ones remembered more and more, and the city talk flew around with the speed and the sharpness of words that sound like they are meant to cut you open but are meant to make you laugh.

And you know and you laugh long and hard and freely, and your Irish parents are over there and your children of immigrants from Ireland and the Caribbean are over here you stop suddenly and think…this, this is where I belong.