Feel­ing lucky to live and work in this coun­try


EVENTS of late have made me stop, take stock and ul­ti­mately be grate­ful for the fact that I have been let live my life in the coun­try of my birth.

To the fore­front was the re­cent visit of Pres­i­dent Michael D. to Bri­tain. Whether by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, there can­not have been a soul on this is­land who was not made aware of the oc­ca­sion. Some may have been gripped by the pageantry, oth­ers by pure cu­rios­ity but even for the in­dif­fer­ent; bear­ing wit­ness to this event was al­ways go­ing to be in­evitable. And though much was made of the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, the speeches de­liv­ered and the ges­tures made, it was the sto­ries of the Ir­ish “abroad” that struck me most.

Their his­tory ac­knowl­edged all that Eng­land had yielded for them but it sounded too a yearn­ing for what Ire­land sadly had not; there was a re­signed ac­cep­tance of dreams un­ful­filled but still a won­der about the what-ifs and could have-beens. Be­hind the spec­ta­cle of cav­alry, horse­men and gilt car­riages, I saw sep­a­ra­tion, heart­break and mo­ments missed – the em­broi­dery of frag­mented lives like rem­nants of waves upon mov­ing sands.

The Pres­i­dent re­ferred to his sis­ters; them­selves émi­grés and it made me think how very lit­tle has changed. How many sis­ters are gone now? How many broth­ers? And how many leave not just a coun­try but a young fam­ily be­hind, search­ing for a life­line, seek­ing sanc­tu­ary and look­ing for home?

In speak­ing with an el­derly widow re­cently, I learned that re­cent years have seen her in­cor­po­rate an an­nual trip to Aus­tralia to see her only child and grand­chil­dren. As a young fam­ily in a for­eign coun­try carv­ing out a new life, they can­not af­ford to come home. I tell her she is for­tu­nate to have the health to do this and I tell her she is for­tu­nate to have the re­sources to be able to go.

I have said all the wrong things. She tells me she is not for­tu­nate at all. She tells me how she begs, steals and bor­rows to come up with the price of the flight ev­ery year. She tells me she com­pro­mises, stretches and ig­nores the anx­i­ety of what the trip does to her health. But she is de­ter­mined to go re­gard­less. Like so many oth­ers what choice does she have? For­tune, she tells me is not go­ing to Aus­tralia ev­ery year - for­tune would be Sun­day lunch with her son in a place that was no fur­ther than a train ride away.

In the ban­quet speech, Pres­i­dent Hig­gins made much of the seanfho­cal “scáth” and its dual mean­ing of “shadow” and “shel­ter”. And though it was used in the con­text of Bri­tain and Ire­land, for me it had res­o­nance in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween emi­gra­tion and this coun­try. When will our fields shed the shadow of emi­gra­tion to be­come a shel­ter in­stead? Be­cause at the end of the day is home and shel­ter not meant to be one and the same thing?”

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