Like most expats my age, I ask myself the same questions every September, “Where will I go for Christmas?” The past few winter breaks have been spent swaning around South East Asia in the sunshine so Ireland, with its mild, rainy weather wasn’t too high on the list. The same thing happens to me in May as summer holidays are planned and again the same problem arises. With so many countries within reach, both financially and time wise, I came to the horrifying realisation that it had been almost 3 years since I returned to the Emerald Isle.
This September, there was only one answer to my annual question, I had to go home. There was no reason for me avoiding it, I have a great family, great friends and there’s no place like home, I guess I was just fulfilling a desire to see as much of the world as I could while I had the chance. While three years is not a long time, it’s long enough to hear the talks of the “state of the country” the lack of jobs, to read the frightening emigration statistics, and to realise that most people I went to school and university with were no longer in the country. So with all this in mind, I had worked myself into a flurry of doubt about whether or not I would know anyone in my area, if it would all be sadness and misery, the effect the recession had on my own family and community and if what made Ireland Ireland would still be there. I arrived back on a stormy, wet, miserable Friday afternoon which made me want to get back on the plane and go to Thailand but knowing that my father and sister were outside, I stayed. When I arrived home 3 hours later, the first realisation dawned on me. Nothing had changed. Nothing. Everything and everyone was exactly the same but a little older. Even my grandfather was sitting in the same chair I had left him sitting in 3 years earlier. It was like walking back in time. My kitchen still smelled like mum’s brown bread, there were fresh apple tarts on the counter, the Roses tin was a mix of actual roses and other random sweets and as usual, the kettle was on. My family all came round and were all still the same but of course, older.The only absence was my grandmother who passed away shortly after I moved to Korea a few years ago. I was particularly surprised by how much my little cousins had grown. The smaller ones had very little recollection of who I actually was but that’s what happens when you leave when they’re very young. I was astonishing to see them play music, play 7’s, read books and play video games when they could barely talk the last time I saw them. I couldn’t stop them talking this time! I kept complimenting them on how great their English was! Living in a country where open space is in short supply and the building are all high-rise with flashing lights, it was a welcome change to be able to put on a pair of wellies and walk for hours through the acres and acres of farmland that surrounds my house. It was on one of these walks that I realised how lonely it can be. You might not meet one person from one end of your walk to the other and to imagine that this is the reality of rural Irish everyday was a scary thought. The whole place seems to have emptied of people. Music was the other absolute must on my Ireland bucketlist. Playing music with people who have been playing Irish music their whole lives is the single greatest thing I miss about living in Korea. It’s slightly shameful that I only learned one reel during my week at home but it was such a delight to have a session in my house. While I play here in Korea, there is nothing like playing with people who have been playing forever. It was so lovely to see how they all communicated in a non verbal way with each other and played different variations to tunes and so on. Here’s a video from the house session; House session Honestly, I thought that the standard of Irish music was a lot higher than I remember it when I last went to Ireland. My little cousin played a reel on her whistle that almost made me cry. To be able to play reels like that at 8 makes me wonder what she’ll play for me on my next trip home. One of my neighbour’s children sang a medley of songs with his guitar (that he had only been learning for 7 weeks) in a pitch that would put most people to shame. The sound of two concertinas met me when I visited another neighbour in a house where the mother and both of the children play music. Even my own mother, gave me a few tunes on the concertina one morning. This is the same woman who gave my sisters and I every musical opportunity while we were growing up and only took up music when we started to move out. It seemed like everyone I met was somehow involved in the Irish culture whether it was the music, dance or GAA and I guess it’s a positive effect of an economic downturn. Any worries I had about not recognising anyone were unfounded as the familiar faces of the past greeted me with a ” you’re the one in Korea, right?” Everyone was interested as to what life was like in Korea, how the weather was, how my job was going, how the music was going. The local town, however, was deathly quiet, the businesses I once knew either downsized or not in existence. People of my age were simply not around but those who were had good jobs and were doing really well. People in general seemed more friendly than I remembered and Dad put it down to the fact that when you lose everything you start to remember the important things like being nice. I can’t say for sure. Even though there really is no place like home and I enjoyed my time immensely, I must admit I was glad to come back to Korea. I had forgotten how laid back it is in Ireland and found myself unable to go without doing something for 5 minutes. The life there was so quiet that it was comforting to know that I was returning to a job and a great circle of friends. Hopefully it won’t be as long before I return home again.