I realised something earlier, reading my Facebook news page. One of my old friends had been to Hawaii – another two had just been to Mexico. Another lives in Australia. Rich, of course, seems to spend most of his life clambering around the world in neon Shoreditch Shades. Dearestmarquiserachel has been back from Peru about two months.
This is nothing particularly outstanding really. Everyone is, as far as I know, in that delightful state of being in their mid-twenties, presumably having had at least a half-decent job for awhile, without silly things like children to suck away their money. Many of them are in two-salary homes or have friends they like well enough to travel the globe with.
Once upon a time, I wanted to see the world. Really I did. I loved America and longed to see its all. This was before Bush, before the war. I wanted to see the great sights of the world. Then I did something that in hindsight might have actually been very stupid.
I went to Ireland.
At the time, it felt like I couldn’t get there soon enough. It felt like I’d already missed out by not being there. I was twenty-two when I first, at last, and finally, made it there. I went to Dublin with my mother. Then about three months later I went again with Ebony. A few months after that, I went with Rachel. In January 2006 I went with Natasha. I managed to go over a year without Ireland before I caved and went to see the Dubliners there in July 2007.
This year, I couldn’t handle it. Despite being booked on a holiday to Co Kerry in September, I couldn’t stay away and made my excuses and headed to Cork and Dublin in August. At the moment, I’m on the verge of going again in December, just to see Thin Lizzy. Technically, because I’ve seen their current Sykes/Gorham incarnation twice before, I’d be going to see Scott Gorham’s beard. So far, I haven’t booked anything but the two days off from work which I think says a great deal about my willpower.
I have not lost my desire to see the world, really I haven’t. Unfortunately, my desire to see Ireland first trumps everything. I’ve been to Detroit, Florence, Venice and Pula since first seeing Dublin and I loved each of them. Did I go to Rome before Dublin? I can’t remember.
Now, I don’t have much in the way of money, certainly not since Granddad died and I suddenly became responsible for all those bill things. I’m on my own, so am either dependent on going with family, persuading friends (and I’ve exhausted, I think, the list of people willing to come to Ireland with me) or being incredibly frugal and going alone as I did for the Corkublin Extravaganza. At least the country I love so well is nearby and therefore sort-of-cheap.
Actually, Ireland’s really fucking expensive, but I pay my money and make my choice, right?
I suppose I’m more concerned that my desire to see the world has been almost quashed by Ireland. I mean, I know that nothing can compare to Ireland as far as I’m concerned.
Watching Who Do You Think You Are? lately has got me thinking: what if I’m not really all that Irish after all? It’s a bit of a ridiculous notion, knowing what I do, but maybe not that ridiculous. Then again, I also know that my love and devotion to Ireland are not dependent on some spurious ‘genetic’ link to the place. If I’m told tomorrow that I’m actually Welsh, or Scottish, or Italian or heavens forfend, English… then that does not change the way I felt mountain biking in Killarney, or that warmth I have when I’m in Philip’s town. That can’t be taken away from me by anyone.
When I was a teenager, I got quite involved in the whole "Well, I’m actually Italian as well" thing. Suddenly all the stories I wrote featured characters with names like Alessandra or Apollonia (see my long-time screenname, right?). And I am, just a little bit, Italo-Croat. I loved Pula because it’s my grandmother’s town, loved Istria because it’s beautiful and was desperately sad because I was there without the old man.
Speaking of, my granddad used to tell me that I wouldn’t like living in Ireland. He was quite certain about it, but was always quite vague when I asked why. Perhaps he was thinking of the Republic he knew in the forties, when he’d have to be sure he was completely out of military wear when going from the barracks in Ballymena down to Dublin. I can only assume that with his London accent he was treated in a particular way. Maybe he was thinking of the Ireland of now, though, and was right. I hope not.
Have I ever told you the real reason I always wanted to be rich and famous? It’s not for adulation, nor even to be thrown in the way of Handsome Movie Stars That Will Remain Nameless. No, it was so I could afford to disappear to some remote part of Ireland. As we were driving around Kerry, I was trying to explain that pretty though the houses we could see on the sides of hills were, the fact that we could see them rendered them not remote enough. I suppose then, what I want is just the riches… not for their own sake, but to give me my Ireland.
I want to be able to disappear there, knowing as I do that I will never truly belong there. I feel it every time I’m there. I’m never more fucking English than when I’m in Ireland, irony of fucking ironies. Of course, I enjoy irony and sod’s law, so I can’t feel too down about it. I have an English sense of punctuality and that sort of closed-off way of being.
Another irony: that closed off thing? That finds-it-hard-to-talk-to-humans thing? I think I probably learned it from Granny who was, of course, Irish. Mind you, she grew up in the North and They Do Things Differently There. I used to ask her all the time what it was like to be a girl there, because I’ve always been so fucking proud of being fucking Irish.
Proving of course, that I’m Diaspora Irish. I was proud of it when it wasn’t really fashionable: when ‘our’ people were blowing up Canary Wharf, and Bishopsgate and Warrington and Manchester. When I was very young, Irish people were terrorists, case closed. Even when I was wound up by those bloody London Irish Catholics (a whole separate sub-species, I swear to fucking God) and wished they’d bugger off – or rather, that I could leave Church and bugger off myself – I was proud of being Irish. Not because of the terrorist bastards who have torn apart so many lives, but in spite of.
I never felt like I belonged in Hertfordshire. I was a London child, but I was Irish too. Now, I know that a fair number of the other kids had a decent amount of it going on too, but it mattered to me. It was important to me. Some of the exclusion was done to me, but I suppose I kept myself apart. I suppose I didn’t want to get too attached to the place when what I really wanted was to be in London and/or Ireland.
It’s always been there, man, just waiting dormant. Waiting for me to find Ronnie Drew. Waiting for Luke Kelly, and Sweeney’s Men. Waiting for me to understand how to feel when handed the Lakes of Killarney. Waiting for me to find my most beloved, so very much missed Philip. Waiting for me to be ready for it, I suppose.
By coming to Ireland so ‘late’, I think I’ve been able to see it fairly. I don’t need to say it’s the best place in the world ever: I understand that it’s imperfect but I can say it’s my favourite place. I don’t have to close my eyes to the bad bits to love it. I still have that ridiculous thing of tearing up when a lachrymose auld Oirish song comes on my iPod – it happened today actually with a song called ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’ and when I realised that the melody of ‘The Minstrel Boy’ must have been hard-coded in my brain somewhere a long time ago.
I’ll never absolutely belong in Ireland but that might just be OK. I love her just the same.