The Accidental Columnist: What it means to be in a long-distance relationship with Ireland
Columnist Dean O’Reilly meditates on the long-term relationship we have with our homeland, and how this can be strained by emgiration.
Well, here it is. Two years after boarding a ferry to Manchester and despite my best efforts, my thinkpiece about leaving Ireland rears its head. I can hear the groans already. How many times do we need to hear a 20-something say they loved Ireland but Ireland didn’t love them back? Surely that trope is done to death?
I know, I know, we’ve heard this story countless times. The housing crisis. The poorer pay. The limits of public transport and nightlife. All of it. And now here’s my version.
In 2022, I left Ireland because there was nothing left for me to do. I had just finished a job I loved. I was single. I finally had my two-years-delayed graduation, and it was time for something new. It was time for something better. It was especially time for better housing.
I found many of the things I went looking for. I got a new job in something that is underdeveloped in Ireland: equity, diversity and inclusion. I found cheaper and better housing. The transport in Manchester more reliable. There are far more cafes that are open late. And let’s not forget this city’s legendary Gay Village.
But when people ask me if I love being there, I can’t bring myself to say I do. It doesn’t feel honest.
Moving brought something out of me that I never knew I had: a deep connection to Ireland. You might even say (get ready to groan again) a grá. Before moving, I never felt anything like it for the mammies, wooden spoons, ‘I left the immersion on’, potatoes-grow-from-my-veins-type of Irish experience.
When I’m in Ireland, it still bothers me that I can’t get a house. I’m annoyed when the bus doesn’t show. It irks me when I hear the same music in the same venue with the exact same people every week in town. But these are Irish problems. These are my problems. And in some ways, I love them.
I love them in the way I have a vested interest in them improving. I love them in the way I want them to be better. I love them in the way I would do anything I could to help in doing so.
And when something goes wrong – when I feel alone, when I think of the worst – it is Ireland that calls to me. I feel Ireland has my back. I can’t say the same for Manchester. Manchester is fun. It’s shiny. It has new things to discover and there’s a novelty to it. But it’s just a fling. It won’t cheer me up when I’m upset. It would spit me out the minute I stop being useful – and I’d do the same. Manchester is greener grass; greener grass that I’ll never water.
And so, for two years, Ireland and I have been locked in this back-and-forth. I visit when I can and Ireland visits me from time to time, too. Sometimes it’s in the accent of a family member or it’s when I throw out a uniquely Hiberno-English phrase that people in Manchester don’t recognise. Sometimes I'll fly in for a Wednesday night drag show or find myself booking the Dublin leg of a tour.
So I’m not going to recite the refrain that I loved Ireland but Ireland didn’t love me back and say instead that we just have some things to work out. And I’ll come back. I know I will. And I know Ireland will have me. Until then, we stay long distance, and I enjoy the green grass.