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I’m a bit ambivalent about St. Patrick’s Day. What is it about March 17th that renders so many people Irish or some version of it that I don’t recall from living the first twenty-seven years of my life in Ireland. Everywhere I turn, there are people bragging about their Irishness, with plastic green bowler hats and/or T-shirts emblazoned with a command for everyone to kiss them. Because they are Irish. Even politicians are suddenly Irish – usually the American kind and definitely not those from a distinct group in Northern Ireland, where I’m from. It amuses me to imagine how many frazzled interns there must be in these United States, tasked by politicians keen on “the Irish vote,” with finding some verifiable, however microscopic, proof of their Irish heritage.
With the green beer flowing to strains of Danny Boy and all those ringlets bouncing heavily on the heads of Irish dancers, I’m beginning to wonder if I was always absent on St. Patrick’s Day. How could I have grown up down the road from Mount Slemish, where the young Patrick tended his sheep, and missed all these shenanigans? Incidentally, along with a bunch of girls from school, I went to Irish Dancing every week at the Protestant Hall on Railway Street in Antrim, and not one of us had either the ringlets or the very straight backs and long legs of Michael Flatley’s Riverdancers.
I have long since forgotten the name of my Irish Dancing teacher and how to do a slip-jig, but I saved all my medals in the red box that held my first Timex watch, and I brought my lovely dancing costume to America with me. It hangs in the back of a closet, reminiscent of Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. Dare I ask my daughter to humor me and try it on. It is St. Patrick’s Day after all . . .
Then there’s the corned beef and cabbage. Honestly, we never had corned beef. We had the best of sirloin from Stewart’s Butchers, a place with saffron colored sawdust on the floor. I traced figures of eight in it with the toes of the brogues I wore to school. An imaginative child, I pretended I was cutting through ice on the blades of Harriet’s skates as she spun around a frozen pond in Tom’s Midnight Garden. Their navy and white striped aprons smeared with blood and bits of raw beef, the young butchers of Stewart’s looked a bit menacing, especially while sharpening their knives as I ordered a pound of mince. Cabbage, I still associate with the overcooked vegetables, lumpy custard, and tapioca served for lunch at Antrim Primary School. Mind you, as my mother will no doubt remind me, when fried up with a bit of good bacon from Golden’s, the wee shop, cabbage was hard to beat. But it had nothing to do with St. Patrick. Corned beef and cabbage would have been no more than a coincidence on St. Patrick’s Day four decades ago.
And, the shamrocks. I don’t remember Pat the barman in the Crown Bar in Belfast taking the time to trace a shamrock on the head of a pint of Guinness for my friend Ruth or me, nor do I remember shamrocks or Celtic knots tattooed with pride on young shoulders; rather, they were carved into headstones in old graveyards. I never paid much attention to that part of the story about St. Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland, although it has crossed my mind when I have encountered real snakes slithering across my path on a hike through the Arizona desert. I have found them much less poisonous than the human variety, especially those given to leaving nasty remarks on my blog. You know who you are, and I almost feel sorry for you.
Wasn’t St. Patrick very clever to have found in nature a perfect symbol for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to help him spread The Word? This was how I learned about the Holy Trinity in Sunday School, and, I always think about it when I recall those delicate shamrocks wilting in the buttonholes of suits worn by Catholic men going to mass on St. Patrick’s Day. Back then, it seemed that most Protestants either “took no notice” of the holiday or characterized it as something reserved for those “on the other side.” Ironic, given the young saint’s passion for spreading Christianity.
By the time I was living and studying in Belfast, St. Patrick’s Day had become a good excuse for an extended pub crawl with a motley crew of art students, engineers, teachers, and nurses. The nurses were all young men, which, in retrospect, strikes me as odd. In a good way. I recall one such March, when a bunch of us piled in a taxi bound for The Wayside Halt, a pub on the Ballymena line. I still remember trying very hard not to think of the Catholic publican, Sean Byrne, and his brother, Brendan, who had been shot to death, at point blank range, in that very place. Somehow, Mrs. Byrne had kept going and on St. Patrick’s Day, she outdid herself, with a giant pot of Irish stew, the likes of which I defy you to find in America. Bland to the American taste-buds, I’m sure, but for us, when combined with an aromatic turf fire, a hot Powers whiskey, and someone like Big Micky playing The Lonesome Boatman on a tin whistle in the back bar, it was big and bold in flavor. Unforgettable. On such a night, we basked in our Irish identity. We knew who we were.
You are unlikely to find me at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Faire in Phoenix, especially on a 90 degree day, but this afternoon, you might just find me out by the pool with the unlikely sounds of Christy Moore and the Raggle Taggle Gypsy filling the backyard and Edna O’Brien’s Saints and Sinners in hand. If you have an hour or two to be Irish today, dip your toes in any of the following:
“When some 12,000 people poured into Vicar St in Dublin and the Glór Irish Music Centre in Ennis, County Clare for Planxty’s first live dates in well over twenty years, it became apparent that these concerts were being celebrated not just by an audience of veteran folk music aficionados, but equally by a whole new generation of younger fans who previously could only dream of how Planxty sounded in the flesh. How beautiful it was to watch sons and daughters with mothers and fathers joined in mutual appreciation of these four musicians and their very unique musical chemistry. In fact, even Planxty’s own children got to see them perform together for the first time.”
2. The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue by Edna O’Brien. Let it be noted that my brother has apologized for his terrible lapse in judgement and agrees that Ms. O’Brien’s not too shabby in the story-telling department after all.
3. The Horslips – the original “Dancehall Sweethearts” singing Dearg Doom.
4. Modern Irish Short Stories – if you want to understand the art of the short story as “putting the oak tree back in the acorn,” this little gem is a must. The size of a small bible, it is packed with stories by the likes of Frank O’Connor, Mary Lavin, Bernard McClaverty, George Moore, and a touch of Joyce.
5. Astral Weeks/I Believe I have Transcended – Van Morrison in full flow at The Hollywood Bowl, mystifying us witha song he once described as “one where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
6. Seamus Heaney’s Poetry – When I want to stop the world for a minute and go ‘back home’ to those lovely rhythms of rural County Derry, I listen to Heaney read from The Haw Lantern, a collection of sonnets he wrote for his mother.
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives
7. To School Through the Fields or Quench the Lamp by Alice Taylor (although I swear my father could have written either of these evocative tales of a childhood in Ireland). The Irish way of telling stories is unique. Written in English but always with a distinct Irish beat.
9. On Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh
“On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay –
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay –
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.”
10. Summer in Dublin – Bagatelle. I regularly took the Inner-city Express from Belfast to Dublin in the summers of the early 1980s. I know this is not something you would ever hear on The Old Grey Whistle Test but it is St. Patrick’s Day, and I might as well be every bit as maudlin as the rest of you.
Now, I know I have omitted Yeats and Joyce, Wilde and Shaw, U2 and The Chieftains, Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott, Moving Hearts and Thin Lizzy, Brian Moore and Jennifer Johnston, but you’ll find them all and so many more on other people’s lists.
Enjoy them all this St. Patrick’s Day!
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It is International Women’s Day, and I am mad at my brother. It might as well be 1974, the two of us in the back seat of our father’s yellow Honda Civic, cushions strategically stacked in the middle to stop us from hitting each other on the long drive to a campground near Loch Lomond in Scotland. In passing this morning, with an entire stretch of Atlantic ocean and a sizable chunk of the North American continent between us, I casually mentioned to him that I might just sit down and write a sentence or two about Edna O’Brien, my favorite writer.
She was the first woman to commit to paper anything that made any sense to me, and I love her. My brother scoffed at me and said if I planned to do so, I should also add a “Dislike” button to my blog. The very thought! For me, Edna O’Brien stands out as the first woman to lambast my country’s constraints on women, and in her own over-the-top life, she has flung the door wide open on what it means to be yourself. Live. In Person. Out loud. She makes me want to stand up and cheer her on, even more so because there’s part of me that worries about how lonely she might be at the end of a day. There is a poignant scene in The Country Girls, when she describes Kate’s mother as she waves goodbye, and I don’t like to think of Edna O’Brien sad and lonely at 83:
She was waving. In her brown dress, she looked sad, the farther I went, the sadder she looked. Like a sparrow in the snow, brown and anxious and lonesome.
When my brother reads this, I imagine he will find it very dismal and depressing. Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Knowing exactly which of my buttons to push, he went on to explain that he has little time for Thomas Hardy either, having written his dissertation on the women of Hardy’s novels. He had the nerve to describe The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles as “a triptych of misery.” Out of Hardy’s entire body of work, my brother likes only one sentence, the one in which Tess’s mouth is compared to “snow-filled roses.” I, on the other hand, prefer the last line where he says something very melodramatic like “The Great President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess.” And that, as Mr. Jones, my English school teacher would have said, is “great stuff!”
While it was hard for me to argue against the drudgery of a dissertation on the Hardy women that most likely required a stiff drink at some point, I decided to, instead, point out that my brother was in fact the same youngster who read all Enid Blyton’s books, including the ones bereft of any boys. In his defense, he said that at least Enid could spin a yarn and get out while the getting was good. Edna O’Brien, however, is more apt to keep an argument going, coming back in the room, more than once, with, “Oh, and ANOTHER thing …” Well, of course Edna O’Brien would do that. I mean I do that. It’s very Irish as well as consistent with a perfectly natural and even charming forgetfulness. Right? What’s wrong with him? I may need smelling-salts before this is over.
As I was saying, I love Edna O’Brien. I own everything she has ever written and even some things that written about her, the latter not always favorable. I even saved the seven page hand-written paper I wrote about her in 1982 with the nice comment in red ink deeming it “A very perceptive, well presented and documented survey.” Mind you, I only got 75/100, which I swear was very good at the time, but by today’s standards, wouldn’t that be considered terribly mediocre? A “C” by any other name?
I suppose I should be thankful anything had been written about Edna O’Brien at all. To this day, she remains critically ignored in Irish literary history, as she was in 1982, when I informed my college tutor that Ms. O’Brien would be the subject of my dissertation on Irish Fiction Since James Joyce. He pointed out that it was entirely up to me, and good luck of course, but to bear in mind that, unlike Joyce’s body of work, Edna O’Brien’s fiction had not been the subject of “substantial critical inquiry.” Well, that was a bit unfair, but it was true. So while everybody else was checking out dusty hard-back books about bloody Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey, I spent hours in the Stranmillis Library when it would have been easier to go to the Errigle Inn to hear Kenny McDowell and Jim Armstrong play than find a handful of words in a tattered periodical about Edna O’Brien suffering the same indignity as James Joyce and Frank O’Connor in having had her books banned. Her Country Girls, published in 1960, was banned for its ‘explicit sexual content,” content that offended a Catholic Church that has, of late, offended me infinitely more than Edna O’Brien ever did, and she was driven into exile. For words published in a book! Banished – as were all the very best Irish writers. What were they all so afraid of? I suppose we could take a look back to around the time O’Brien was born. In 1927, then Bishop of Ardagh had this to say about the danger to the “Irish” character:
In many respects, the danger to our national characteristic is greater now than ever. The foreign press is more widely diffused among us; the cinema brings very vivid representations of foreign manners an customs, and the radio will bring foreign music, and the propagation of foreign ideals.
Add to that the novelty of television and a new kind of popular press in the 1950s when a young Edna O’Brien began writing, and the same speech applies. To be Irish was to cleave to a certain set of values, to heed your elders, hold your tongue, and mind your manners. Edna O’Brien wasn’t having any of that. She was a different kind of woman, stepping up and out to challenge the Irish establishment that had so many of us tied in knots with our parents, priests, politicians. I would never have encountered this woman from County Clare, had it not been for Brian Baird who, in addition to reading the six o’clock news with gravitas on UTV every night, was my Tutor at Stranmillis University College Belfast. I will never forget him.
Some years later, I sent him a letter to say thank you. We should thank our great teachers. Too, I was about to teach an Irish literature class, and I wondered if Mr. Baird would share with me his course outline and a reading list. He obliged, and to this day, his letter and the list of works, remain carefully folded between pages 186 and 187 of the Collected Poems of Patrick Kavanagh.
It angers me to know that cancer took my Mr. Baird eight years after he sent me this letter. Cancer. There’s just no getting away from it. I hate it.
Mr. Baird, I would give anything to run in to you, just one more time, at The Lyric Theater on Ridgeway Street, just a few doors down from where I lived when I was a student. Before a play perhaps, as you are enjoying a cigar and a laugh with local playwrights, your thick gold bracelet chinking against a brandy glass as you raise it to one of your students on the other side of the lobby. This time, I would say hello and ask if he thought the play was going to be all it was cracked up to be. I would be like Edna O’Brien, unafraid and confident, with the voice she helped me find so I could move in a world where women are still struggling. Oh, Mr. Baird, I am still learning. When I wrote that essay for him, I included something Edna O’Brien had shared in an interview, and it resonates with me still:
You canot escape the themes of childhood . . . the bulk of the rest of our lives is shadowed or colored by that time.
You see, Edna O’Brien, unlike Yeats and Joyce and various other dead men, made me pay attention to my lot in life, the child I had been, and the young woman, the first in the family to “go away” to university. For years, our heads had been turned by The Troubles in Northern Ireland, our schools and the literature and history we studied, all segregated. Then in college, our heads were turned by Joyce, Beckett, and O’Casey, and I was sick of memorizing the poetry, although beautiful, of W.B. Yeats. Sicker of all the pseudo-intellectuals who tried to sparkle and enchant their way through lectures with ill-placed ironies by Oscar Wilde. But Mr. Baird also introduced us to Seamus Heaney whose poetry has saved me a time or two, and to Brian Moore. I loved Moore’s books as well – the Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne comes to mind, The Emporer of Ice Cream. Moore even tried his hand at writing as a woman in The Doctor’s Wife in the early 1970s. He did a good job too and received critical acclaim for his portraits of women “on the edge” as he did for his dead-on depiction of and disillusionment with the Belfast I loved. Still, I remember wondering why Moore’s books seemed were more “acceptable” than those of Edna O’Brien who didn’t have to “get into character” to be a real Irish woman writing about real Irish women, about the unwavering parochialism of Irish catholicism and the oppressive constraints of hard life in rural Ireland. She breathed it.
With both caustic wit and trademark humor, O’Brien held up to the light the limitations of a repressed Irish society that oppressed its women. At twenty-one, I don’t pretend that I knew anything about being a feminist, being a woman. But I knew that O’Brien’s voice was at once new and familiar. Finally, we could find in our libraries and bookshops, the words of a woman speaking about the constricting despair that holed up in the hearts of Irish women trapped in a paradigm of provincialism and parochialism. I remember how excited I was to share The Country Girls with my mother, telling her, “Read this, ma!” and knowing it would make her weep with sorrow and joy in equal measure, as she nodded her head in pure recognition. Edna O’Brien knew who we were. I understood more about Ireland from those books than anything else I learned in college. Finally, I understood who I was, and something about my mother and hers before her.
Too little time indeed. A Scandalous Woman published in 1974 is a collection of nine short stories, the title story ending with the author’s comment on the lot of Irish women, “I thought that ours indeed was a land of shame, a land of murder, and a land of strange, sacrificial women.”
Such women weep, accepting their lot, knowing no other, for Ireland – lost for so long in struggles with invaders, with poverty, and with the land, has had too little time for the delicacy of polite society and leisurely relationships.
Looking back from where I sit in 2013 America, I wonder if this was perhaps more about the sacrifices of the first Irish feminists and if finally, we are embracing this country girl and her critique of the repressive Ireland that produced her.
On this International Women’s Day, it is sobering to realize that in the eighty years since Edna O’Brien’s birth, we are still fighting for equality, education, and empowerment for women. In Ireland. America. Africa. India. Everywhere.
When we make life better for our girls, we make life better for everyone.
When girls have equal opportunities to education and health; when they are safe and provided opportunities; the trajectories of their lives change in ways that can lift an entire community out of poverty. Think about it.
Invest in a Girl.
We are harming ourselves as a global community, men are harming themselves, by not investing in women.
Edna O’Brien, The Art of Fiction No. 82, Paris Review 1984 Interviewed by Shusha Guppy
Edna O’Brien, Reluctant Memoirist, The Times Literary Supplement 2012, Patricia Craig
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It is a confession of sorts. I do not want to write about being diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer, or expecting to die from cancer. In the beginning, cancer hung from every sentence, anchoring me down to an unfamiliar place, where one could easily get lost, were it not for the kindness of strangers. Like Rhonda, not a stranger to me, but a colleague who had never met my husband and made a point of finding him in the hospital waiting room where she waited with him for part of those eight hours I spent undergoing a mastectomy and reconstruction. Like Ken Kaminesky, a photographer I had never heard of until I needed a certain photograph. When I had finally settled on the most obvious title for my blog, I began an interminable internet search for a picture of the field of lilies which would serve as a daily reminder for me and anyone else who might stop by, to consider them.
Eventually, I landed on Ken’s breathtaking photograph of a field of unopened lilies at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario. It was perfect. I sent an email to this complete stranger, told him about the cancer and how it was forcing me to consider the lilies just like my mother had told me to so many times when I was a little girl. I asked him how much to buy the print or a license to use it. Within minutes, he had cropped the coveted photograph to the best dimensions for a WordPress blog and sent it to me with best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Now I may never meet Ken Kaminesky, the kindly photographer who also has a National Geographic cover to his credit, but I think about him every time I open up my blog and take in that expansive field of lilies that will remain forever green.
Mr. Jones, my favorite English teacher at Antrim Grammar School, would be pleased to know I finally understand what John Keats was on about when he wrote about those lovers painted on his imaginary Grecian Urn:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Then something happened. It was perhaps three months after the surgery, and a woman a little like the one I used to be showed up, the one reluctant to accept “no” as an answer when a clear-eyed “yes” made more sense. One morning, without telling anyone or looking over her shoulder, she simply deleted “since cancer came calling” from the title of the blog. The lilies remained. Nobody noticed or minded, and ever since, I have ruminated freely, randomly, nostalgically on all manner of stuff – immigration, education, the north-eastern corner of my home country and its people, their language and poetry, Van Morrison, Seamus Heaney, Edna O’Brien, America, the idea of America and, therefore, Bruce Springsteen, childhood, adulthood, middle-of-life-hood, motherhood, fatherhood, the contents of my wallet, favorite flowers, my mother’s recipes, the weather, famous people who have no idea who I am but I am convinced they would like to go for coffee with me, my daughter’s hands, my long-gone grandparents. For all the world to see, I have mused on whether or not I am woman enough, mother enough, educator enough, simply enough. The cancer is still there, and inarguably has changed the color of this life I am living, but it is not the clasp that secures the delicate chain. That is something else entirely.
Facing the half-century mark, my thoughts increasingly turn “back home,” sometimes to the very things that sent me away, the rain and the low-hanging clouds and the sheer lack of anonymity. Sometimes, I have to remind myself of the diminished possibilities and broken promises that, in fact, drove me and so many like me, into exile, a part of the Irish Diaspora. This morning, I thought of George Moore’s “Home Sickness,” the tale of an Irish immigrant, James Bryden, who works in the Bowery in early twentieth century New York. When he falls ill, his doctor recommends a sea voyage, so Bryden decides to see Ireland again, an Ireland he has since romanticized. Thus, when he returns and encounters again the harsh realities facing the peasants in his village, his disillusionment with Ireland is replaced with a yearning for the America he has left behind. The slum in the Bowery now transformed in his memory, he wholly rejects the prospect of spending his life in Ireland with Margaret, a woman whose memory will return to him many years later when he is old, back in the Bowery, with a wife and family:
There is an unchanging, silent life within every man that none knows but himself and his unchanging silent life was his memory of Margaret Dirken. The bar-room was forgotten and all that concerned it and the things he saw most clearly were the green hillside, and the bog lake and the rushes about it, and the greater lake in the distance, and behind it the blue line of wandering hills.
On the surface, it is the simple story of a malcontent for whom the grass is invariably and always greener on the other side. But I suspect a similar tension lurks in the heart of every Irish immigrant, and with age, grows a desire to hold on to home or some pleasant version of it, yet from a distance.
This blog was never supposed to be about my identity. Fueled by good intentions and my personal experience, it was supposed to be singularly about breast cancer, a place to advocate for others affected by the disease, where I would stay on top of the topic of cancer. I had presumed I might be instrumental in forcing a change in the national conversation about it by chronicling the injustices and indignities that simmer in its culture, if only half as well as so many women who have pulled me up more times than they will ever know. How they write! Boldly, audaciously, and tenaciously, some daily, they stay on point even when they claim to have run out of words – the Accidental Amazon, Nancy and her Point, the Pink Underbelly, Marie and the global cast of women whose blogs she rounds up every Friday at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, and the women and men who show up every Monday at 9pm ET at the #BCSM, Tweetchat, “ the intersection of breast cancer and all things social media,” where truths are conveyed at lightning speed in 140 characters or less.
I had hoped to catch the right words about breast cancer and save them in a jam-jar with holes poked in the lid, ready to release them whenever they were needed. But I am not up for the task that requires a commitment as mammoth as the hulking oppressor that is breast cancer itself.
I used to write that it was breast cancer that had banished me to a strange land, thereby demanding a new level of boldness and bravery; that it had forced me into a kind of exile. That was true, but so too – and more important to me now – is this matter of my self as a voluntary exile in a global community that is smaller and more accessible to those who left Ireland as well as those who stayed. I understand the duality Joseph O’Connor describes in the introduction to Ireland in Exile: Irish writers abroad.
In the end, I suppose it is just a blog about being home.
You might be coming home for Christmas, or a family celebration, or a funeral, or to see a friend. Or you might just be coming back to Ireland because you’re so lonely and freaked-out where you are that you can’t stick it any more, and you need a break, and you’d sell your Granny to be back in the pub at home by nine o’clock on a Friday night, having fun and telling stories.
And there it is, this IDA poster, illuminated at the end of the corridoor that leads from the airbridge gates to the arrivals terminal; the ghostly faces of those beautiful Young Europeans. It always seems poignant as any ancient Ulster saga to me, this pantheon of departed heroes, so hopeful and innocent, frozen in their brief moment of optimism.
And you meet your friends the night you get home, the people who stayed behind. You talk to them of what’s happening and there’s loads of news. Some of them are getting married to people you haven’t even met, because you don’t live in Ireland anymore. Some have broken up with long-time lovers, others are still trying to get decent work. Some of them have kids you’ ve never seen. You don’t really know what these scandals and gobbets of gossip are, about which people are laughing so knowledgeably as they sip their pints, but you laugh too, because you don’t want to be left out. You pretend you know what your friends are talking about, because you still want to belong, And sometimes there are rows, as the night wears on, because you don’t keep in touch as much as you should, and they resent you a bit for going anyway, and you resent them a bit for staying, although you can’t put your finger on why. But the conversation flows, as much as it can, with a couple of awkward moments. When you use the words “home” or “at home”, for instance, your friends don’t really know what you mean. Sometimes you don’t know yourself.
… Then, about half an hour before closing time, you find yourself looking around the pub and becoming frantically uptight. You’re feeling completely out of place, you don’t know why. It’s weird. You don’t get it. But somehow, despite the ceol and the caint and the craic, something is wrong. You’re home in Ireland, but you’re not home really. London is still in your head, on New York, or Paris. But you’re in Ireland. How did this happen? It’s not that you’re unhappy exactly. But it’s just not right. You take a swig of your drink, and the music seems louder. You close your eyes and try to fight back the almost overwhelming urge to be somewhere – anywhere – else. And you realize in that moment that you really are an emigrant now. And that being an emigrant isn’t just an address. You realise that it’s actually a way of thinking about Ireland.
~ JOSEPH O’CONNOR