Yesterday I wore a red dress to work to follow others in paying tribute to Anthony Foley, a Munster rugby legend who sadly died at the weekend (red being the Munster colour). I never paid any attention to rugby until I went to college in Limerick – a city that eats, sleeps and breathes the sport – but I’ve been a rugby fan ever since. So I really wanted to join in the tributes yesterday, even though I work in a library in central London where rugby isn’t exactly an everyday topic of conversation.
It also seems like seems a fitting day to write about belonging – and specifically, how I don’t really belong anywhere anymore. I’m Irish and I live in London. Ireland will always be home, yet I can’t imagine myself ever living there again. I love the anonymity of London; nobody really cares who you are and where you come from.
I do find England and the English baffling at times. Cricket is a sport I will never understand; it doesn’t look anywhere near as much fun as rounders, that’s all I’m saying! Marmite and chutney are two other oddities I can’t get my head around. Particularly chutney: you’re putting jam on your curry… why?
Despite all that though, I have grown to love certain aspects of the national character. I admire the Londoner’s ‘blitz spirit’ and stoicism in the face of global terrorism. Londoners get on with their daily lives and refuse to let anything stand in the way, and I find this hugely inspiring. I have also occasionally found myself adopting the British ‘stiff upper lip’ on days when I feel depressed by making myself get out the door to go to work, where I can hide my inner turmoil for a few hours. Of course, this isn’t always the healthiest approach, but then again it has helped me to hold down a job and function as a human being.
Yet the longer I live in London, the more Irish I find myself becoming. I’ve always been patriotic, but now I’m the girl who puts on Ireland’s Call at parties, and forces everyone to sing ‘shoulder to shoulder’. A few weeks ago I found myself scrolling through Twitter searching for the score in the All Ireland football final, even though I wouldn’t be bothered to watch it if I was at home in Ireland. And I’ve scoured all the supermarkets in my area looking for Barry’s tea – it’s a dark day when my supply has run out and I’m forced to resort to Yorkshire tea instead! Sometimes it’s easier to love your home from a distance, and I certainly get on much better with my family with the Irish Sea between us.
I’ve realised that I love London because you can be whoever you want to be here, and nobody really cares. That can sometimes be lonely, but I have mostly found it empowering. At home in the village I come from I was always that girl who had been raped, and everyone knew me and the man who had raped me. He was somebody I knew, so for years I lived in fear of seeing him or his family. I would always have to scan whatever place I went into to check whether I would be safe there, and that’s exhausting. Happily, I don’t have to carry that burden around with me here. I can just be me – and also I get the benefit of living in one of the most exciting cities in the world.
So that’s me, an Irish girl not living in Ireland but loving it from afar. I guess I’m also someone who has grown to love the British, but who still definitely doesn’t want to be one of them. Like thousands of Irish emigrants before me, no doubt.