Every emigrant believes that their story is new.
It’s a conviction woven through the fabric of the emigration itself; a new start, new beginnings, a renewal of outlook and perspective – all these are critical to the experience, and my experience was no different.
As an Irishman, I’m aware that millions of people departed my home country for the United States over the past 200 years, under many circumstances (and a great many of those unhappy). And yet, because I’m me and this is my life, I can’t help but put myself front and center in my own story.
So, when I returned to Ireland for a visit last week – my first since leaving the country more than a year earlier – I expected (naively, of course) the insights to fall like rain from an Irish summer sky. I would see myself, and the country, cast in a new, deeper light; I would achieve understandings that were impossible in the 38 years I’d lived there.
I may not have forged the uncreated conscience of my race since I’d left, but I would have strongly held beliefs on what makes a good taco, for example, among other things.
What I found was what I already knew, but perhaps didn’t appreciate enough before. It’s obvious to some I’m sure, but it wasn’t to me.
For all the tourist ads and Instagram pics, the Ireland I returned to wasn’t a place. The place was there (I was standing in it, after all), but what made it ‘home’ was the people.
And my wife and I tried to meet as many people as possible. Over a short number of days we spent time with family, met old friends and former work colleagues, and even shot the breeze with the owner of our favorite coffee shop.
We didn’t do, or speak about, anything different or groundbreaking or radical to what we had before. The ‘T word‘ may have been raised once or twice, but we got over that quickly enough.
Instead we just hung out, eating and drinking, walking and talking, covering a great number of topics. Not least the greatest Irish conversation starter: the weather. (For the record it rained most days – which added to the sense of homecoming.)
There was no pretense or argument or oneupmanship – just connection.
When I walked into departures at Dublin Airport a few days later, I hadn’t come into possession of any great emigrant insights. I wasn’t taking off with a razor-sharp concept of the 21st-century Irish psyche in my pocket.
My insight was simple enough – that Ireland contains some of the greatest people, who I love and I miss and who I look forward to returning to. Sin é .