Unexpected turn of events
Thirty years ago, my dad, Kieran Boyle, left the stone walls of Galway for ‘temporary’ pastures new in London. Due to the unexpected circumstance of meeting the woman of his dreams and falling hopelessly in love with her, he slightly over-stayed the estimated duration of his trip – he’s still here.
Dad isn’t the only one responsible for my Irish genes; my maternal great grandmother, ‘Nanny Sarah’, was from County Mayo. I was chatting to my Nan the other day, ‘Nanny Carol’ (Nanny Sarah’s daughter), and we started to speak about Ireland. From early memories of her first ferry over, to emotional recollections of visiting throughout the years, we bonded over our inter-generational London-Irish experience. I’m twenty-three, and she is seventy – although times have changed, our sentiment was shared.
In her distinctive cockney accent, Nanny (Carol) talked about a time that she needed to go over to Ireland to sort out her aunt Peg’s funeral arrangements- she recalled: ‘we walked up the little pathway to the house, ‘the boreen’ they call it, (and) all of a sudden it was like a cloud came over me and I was sort of transfixed to the earth…I just felt part of it and I couldn’t stop crying. I just felt at one with the earth under my feet.’ I understood this.
Each time I step off that plane at Knock airport, I take a moment to reverently inhale that turf-tinted air. It’s an air that overcomes me with feeling. As I smilingly breathe it in, I remember the freedom of childhood summers away from claustrophobic city-life. A liberation of the soul. There is an essence of nostalgia to the air that not only carries my memories, but the memories of a nation, the memories of the land. I can feel that too.
The Home Place
A phrase I have always loved is ‘The Home-Place’- the house in which a family was formed, the place that children were reared. Usually in the form of a charming cottage with rustic walls, it represents the core, the root, the constant. They are the centre of each respective familial universe, the sturdy tree trunk, the cosy nest. I love the way they are colloqually titled by surname, and serve as modest landmarks for local navigation (‘turn right at Donlan’s and continue past Boyle’s, you’ll find it up on the right just before Murphy’s’). Like a comforting cup of tea, it warms my heart.
I love how Ireland is synonymous with ‘home’, no matter how distant your connection may be. ‘When were you last home?’, ‘When are you next home?’, ‘How long are you home for?’ and, the best of all, ‘Welcome home’. There is a profundity beneath the surficial loveliness of these words, a history of many leaving without the certainty of return. It is a place that knows the meaning of a painful good-bye; its’ shores are no stranger to heart wrenching departures. In Ireland, the word ‘home’ carries a unique truth to it, a depth that I have always been moved by.
The Irish Diaspora
My Nan’s experience on ‘the boreen’ really resonated with me; it describes a second-generation Irish kinship that many people across the world can relate to. Although sometimes laughed off as over sentimentalisation, I feel lucky to understand the sincerity behind this deep-rooted affinity. Although born and bred on some other soil, near and far, many will regard Ireland as their ‘home-place’ away from home. I know I do.