Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hating to leave, yearning for home—wherever it is.

Christmas Eve stroll on Howth Head, Dublin.
Back from Ireland to start the new year, the Year of the Family.

When you fly home for the Christmas—back to Ireland—you'll almost always find an inflight magazine article by someone living away who goes back, looking forward to the piss up and the fry up, the banter with old friends, and the smell of burning turf, but fearing the tired, tearful January goodbyes with a red-eyed Mammy at Dublin Airport, pockets full of Barry's teabags and suitcases full of Cadbury's chocolate—ephemeral vestiges of the ease and the sweetness of a trip home. It's the fairy tale of the emigrant: the Irish person leaves for America, finds a job and finds love, builds a family, and returns home to find that they're not exactly sure where it is anymore.

But what about us Yanks who've married in and have made Ireland our second home? It turns out that we've become torn between two countries as well. You see, you Irish people have set the bar very high. Nobody can do the banter like you, no one can do the music so naturally, and nowhere in the world makes batch loaf to match Brennan's.

When I leave Ireland and come home to start the new year, I'm leaving behind the best tea, the best chocolate, the best salad sandwiches, and the best cream buns. And I'm leaving behind some of my favorite people in the entire world and a way of being that I only experience in pockets with a very select group of friends here. I'm leaving behind a comfort and an ease that has nothing to do with holiday blush, but instead with folks who appear to be more socially well-adjusted. Sometimes I say that the Irish are less neurotic. It's not really that, though. It's just that, unlike Americans, the Irish don't wear their neurosis on their sleeves. Only their closest friends know their deepest pains and weaknesses, and they deal with it by slagging them mercilessly for it. We all laugh together, and somehow it's alright.

Sunday session with Celtic Symphony at the Bloody Stream, Howth.
And then there's the music. About twenty years ago, my husband and his closest mates started an ballad session together at a pub in Howth, just north of Dublin. They were three young men in their twenties, with an acoustic guitar, big strong voices, and bellies full of Guinness. That session is still going strong, and those men now have supervisory jobs at the Corpo, at the local powerplant, and more... but they're still singing. They have families now, but they still make it out to Howth every Sunday to a packed house.

When the session started back in the early 1990s, it was the Dubliners, Christy Moore, the Furies, and some of the newer Irish bands of the day, like Aslan, the Pogues, maybe even U2.  Now, there are different faces and it's all new. Every six or so songs, you might hear an Irish one. In between, you hear acoustic versions of the Kings of Leon, the Killers, Beyonce, Cee-Lo Greene, and other new artists that my husband and I didn't recognize at all because we shut off the radio about fifteen years ago. These new songs, sung fireside in a warm pub by eight to ten full-bodied voices, accompanied by four acoustic guitars, an electric acoustic bass, a banjo, an accordion, maybe a whistle, have an energy that makes your chest vibrate and your eyes tear up. It moves you. You just don't get that in the States. And nobody's worried about whether it's Irish or not. They like the songs, and so they sing them.

When we come home, we miss the color and the spirit of Ireland but we love the color of home. In Ireland, it's bright green and it's a deep, rich, fertile brown. It's refreshing. It's natural. It's real. And it's home. The airport was sad and grey, but our American home is warm and red and gold. It's home, too.

Now, we've got suitcases to unpack full of pressies from Dunnes and Penny's, a "borrowed" Guinness pint glass, the guitar picks you can only get at McCullough-Piggots Music Shop on South William Street. As I take each thing out of the case, I'm getting closer to home and further from Ireland, and so I don't hurry to unpack. Because as I have adopted Ireland, Ireland has adopted me too. I'm in like Flynn. Except I'm not a Flynn, nor a Murphy, nor a Nolan, nor a Sullivan. I'm some Lithuanian last name no one can pronounce but I'm also a Lindsay. I can sink Guinness like the best of them and when I get back to Ireland, I'm always reminded that that's not such a bad thing at all.