WHY, after all these years, on a simple, unplanned summer’s evening would Ireland suddenly appear?
Living here, living in this country, living in the place my parents came from, life takes over. So the impetus for coming here in the first place might have been a deep one, might have been something nurtured over years of thinking and reflecting, might have been a genuine attempt to return, to go back to the culture I came from, to stay within touching distance of the kind of people I grew up with, to rear children in a place that might be home. But life takes over doesn’t it?
All of that is still there but there are bills to be paid and the fridge is leaking and the kids have to be dropped to school and there’s a fool on the radio talking long and loud and I think that slate came loose in the last storm.
There’s disenchantment with a country that has emigration running through it as strong as anything else it possesses but that still seems unable to understand any of the complexities that arise from that and remains fixated on identity as a simple accident of birthplace unless it is something to do with an American President.
How can you explain to people who see you as nothing but English that your childhood home had petrol poured through the letterbox because you were Irish? There’s a hard to disguise revulsion at a political culture, class and elite that is so self-serving and venal that the choice appears like one between the nasty tories and the nasty tories.
There’s an almost laughable despair at a country riddled with class and class snobbery that still loves to proclaim, loud and insistent, that only the British have a class system. There is a sobering realisation that, even with historical understanding, some of those old rebel songs are almost impossible to hear now, such is the blood soaked reality of Irish Republicanism.
There is, overall, the simple day to day reality of living in a country that is deeply, deeply flawed and the truth that you are probably tuned to those faults so much because of the baggage you arrived with.
So how, just by chance, does a hidden Ireland, the magical place you’d almost forgotten suddenly appear?
Wandering through a late night small town on a hot summer’s evening in a way you haven’t done for years there is talk of a music session in a small bar on the corner. You step in and slowly it is as if something that was always there has stepped out.
The musicians play with skill and timing and play tunes you haven’t heard for years and some other ones you have never heard. A girl at the counter begins to sing in a voice like a sunrise and the crowd in the bar are content and the pub looks as if it hasn’t changed for decades and there is music and a low hum of chat and applause and laughter.
Some people sit quietly by a pint and though they are alone they are not excluded but become a part of the scene, included simply by being there.
Suddenly all of those misty valleys and the old books you read and the life of Ireland you remember is still there.
Suddenly the Ireland you found once on a trip down the west coast, the one that remains the best of your life, from the Malin to the Mizen, is still there and it just feels like you stopped looking. You stopped looking and you swear as you shout another pint that you won’t make that mistake again.
A couple in the bar who are clearly visitors get up and with dreamy smiles step towards the door and the warm night and you suddenly think that it is the visitors, those who come to see the Ireland you’d forgot, who still see the real thing.
They get on the boat and the plane and they leave the cities of England and they bring their ideas and their memories with them and simply by doing so are paying tribute to the Irish they grew up with and they have their summer days in Ireland again and hear the music and see the laughter and you know now that you are going to have to do that too.
You are going to have to make sure that whatever else is going on, whatever bills and whatever ordinary dramas pop up, whatever disillusionment comes out, that every now and then you are going to make sure you go home too.