Updated: Oct 22
If you're lucky enough to be Irish, then you're lucky enough. I first came across this phrase when on a visit to my Aunt and Uncle's in London back in 2001. I must have been a few days short of my tenth birthday when we landed. My overriding memory is of the sheer amount of Irish memorabilia that was scattered throughout their house. It was more like Arás an Uachtaráin than a terraced house in South Barking. Literally, tri-colours everywhere! Hanging in a beautiful gold frame just inside their door was the phrase mentioned at the top. Perfectly positioned, to make certain that it was the first sight any visitor to their home would see. The pure pride in being Irish abroad was hard to understand at the time. Although the phrase caught my eye, I took no notice of what the words truly meant.
Growing up, I never thought about what it meant to be Irish. Why would I? I was surrounded by Luke Kelly's music, by hurling, by football and every other part of traditional Irish culture you can think of. Looking back now, it's safe to say that I took it all for granted. Being immersed in that culture was just part of living in Ireland. I never thought for a second that one day I'd be living in a different country, but hey-oh, here I am. Like millions of my compatriots, life has taken me far beyond Ireland's shores. Part of being Irish means that some of us have to emigrate to develop our lives elsewhere. Does that make me bitter and resentful towards my country? Not even for a second. It's part of our DNA, part of who we are. Irish people are incredibly resilient and no matter what challenges face us, we will roll with those punches and keep moving forward. Being away from home is a challenge that has thought me many things. Without doubt, appreciation of where I come from is the most important lesson I've learned. Our music, our writers, our history and our sports all play their part in what makes our country unique. Sometimes, an absence is required to truly understand what makes us who we are, and what makes us great. Our tiny country, sitting on the edge of the Atlantic is a global colossus punching far above its weight. Don't believe me? Go for a walk down fifth avenue in New York on St Patrick's Day. The city and its river runs green. Well, pre Covid anyway, but that's another story I will definitely not be going into, YAWN!
Yearning for home and all its comforts is a funny thing. For example, there is a fascination with Tayto crisps amongst the Irish abroad. Every time I meet my Irish friends, they go on about how badly they'd love a packet of Tayto's. "Ah Jasus, the crisps out here are brutal" they'd say. Don't get me wrong, I love Tayto's, but if I was at home I probably wouldn't cross the road for a packet. Living abroad though, I'd go through walls. Anything and everything that reminds you of home is important and cannot be underestimated, Tayto's certainly fit that mould. The Irishness of Tayto's is loved more than the crisp itself, they're a little piece of home and that's all that matters. Whether you're in Sydney, Boston or Edinburgh a longing for home will always exist. It's that feeling, which allows the Irish abroad to truly enjoy Irish culture. I would argue, even more so than the people living at home. Hard to explain, but when you're away from home these things just sit on a pedestal. Our music sounds amazing, our food is the best, our dancing is the best and you'd rather die than forget to get up in the middle of the night to watch the hurling.
If you asked me what I missed the most, I'd find it hard to answer. There are so many things that I could mention but when it all comes down to it, the little things make all the difference. On my travels I've met people from all over the world. Although the Americans can feel slightly hard done by there is no doubt that the Irish are the friendliest people in the world. There is a way to handle tiny irrelevant situations that the Irish have mastered far beyond most people. Let me give you a little example, I've bumped into people in supermarkets all over the world. Whether it's with my trolley or my arse, it can happen. In Ireland, you can be guaranteed that this event will be met with a smile and a gentle "ah don't worry about it, you're grand". In the UK on the other hand, when this has happened I've been stared at as if I've just hit someone with a double decker bus. No mention of being grand, no hope of a smile. Honestly, the little differences are the ones you recognise the most. Don't get me started on people letting you out when you're trying to drive onto the road. It just doesn't exist outside of Ireland, I can never understand it!
I couldn't finish this blog post without mentioning the word craic. At the the end of the day, we all just want to have a good craic. If this can be achieved then all of the worlds ills soon pale into irrelevance. No matter where I've been or who I've met, the craic you have when back at home with your own people can not be matched. Not even close! Ireland is the home of a good craic, and no matter where in the world you travel you won't find anywhere like it. So, hopefully this Covid nonsense can get lost so we can all go home and pile into our local pub for a big session. Plenty of Guinness, plenty of our beloved Tayto's and plenty of Luke Kelly on repeat. Yes please! The question was, does absence make the heart grow fonder? Absolutely...
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