When we moved to Ireland in 2011, my wife and I promised ourselves that we would travel more faithfully in Ireland than we had in the United States. Though we’ve traveled quite a bit in the U.S., we’d fallen into the trap that befalls most people. We assumed that there would be time to see our own country “later”. For anyone, this is a sad mistake that leads to squandered opportunity and missed chances to learn more about something right under their own nose. But for immigrants, this is a tragic mistake.
Thanks to the human predisposition to regret, anything “new” is bound to engender promises of change, and the ever popular promise of “I’m going to do things differently this time.” Arriving in Dublin, we vowed to really get to know Ireland, and not just Dublin. With that in mind, we have traveled to Waterford, Galway, Sligo, Donegal, and, most recently, West Cork. In a country the size of Indiana, this seems like it should be a lot. And, it is. But…
Ireland seems to be a country where parish identity trumps just about everything. It’s not enough to say that you are from Cork. You may also be from Kinsale, Cork City, the Beara Peninsula, Ring, Clonakilty, Baltimore, or Inchybridge, all of which are in “Cork”. And being “from” those places means something different, and says things unique about you.
If you travel for any length of time in Ireland, you realize that Ireland, though small (or perhaps because of it), is an extraordinarily complex place that takes a lifetime to comprehend. Fortunately, we, as recent immigrants, have had an excuse to spend time in and around Ireland. By contrast, our Irish neighbors often bemoan the fact that it’s been years since they’ve seen many of the things we’ve seen in the last two years.
Again, I think it is human nature to put off those things that lie close at hand. But for newly arrived immigrants, the first few years of residence are an ideal excuse to see as much as possible, while it is still novel. So, strike while the iron is hot, and while your new friends, neighbors, and co-works are still eager to show off their country, happy to encourage you, and willing to pass on secret tips and lists of childhood favorites they wish they could go back to. Ultimately, traveling around a new home country is a golden opportunity for immigrants to relive childhood.
In a new country, with a chance to start life again, immigrants have an entire nation to explore “for the first time”, and with “fresh eyes”. Every lunch stop, gas stop, and bathroom break is another brick in the façade of their new national reality. The truth of that country comes alive with every B&B owner met, and every bus driver thanked. Even casual conversations waiting on line to kiss the Blarney Stone deepen the understanding of place.
The gift of a whole new country to explore is given exclusively to infants and immigrants, but only adults can appreciate it.
By contrast, if the first few years are spent close to home, really getting to know that one place, the sense of place may be deep, but not broad. And, because national identity is, I believe, a collective consciousness, any understanding of country (and even that singular “home” city) will remain fundamentally incomplete.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
- Corporate Taxes Abroad, and the Con Artistry of Luring Foreign Investment
- Ireland’s Upward Only Rent Review