In a country as small as Ireland, where local parish control of life (so called “parish pump politics”) was, and is, still so important, the seat of knowledge, the gathering place (the pub), became known as, “The Local”. But for migrants (emigrants and immigrants) moving from/to any country, there is more to those words than meets the eye. Earning the label of a “local” is often a lifetime achievement, and is often a badge of distinction that only the immigrant’s ancestors will enjoy. Yet understanding the importance of all things local raises issues far beyond personal identity.
Though Ireland has always been a small country with a strong sense of local/parish identity and intense regional distinctions, much of the power to govern and control has moved from the local level (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, etc.) to the national level (Dublin). Here again, Ireland’s strong sense of local identity doesn’t exactly match up with the reality of its governance or actual life on the ground. For emigrants moving to Ireland (and elsewhere), it’s important to know what aspects of life are controlled locally, and what matters are under federal control.
It’s not enough to simply say Ireland (or any country) is one thing. As someone who emigrated from the United States, I often wind up conversing about life in the U.S. Over the years, I’ve heard many people say something along the lines of “Oh, I love the States. I would move there in a minute.” Following up, I always ask, “Have you been there?” Often the answer is a resounding, “no”. These people have formed their impressions solely based on the juggernaut of American public relations. Of those that have been to the U.S., I’m always amazed at the number of people who have only visited New York and Orlando and are convinced they “know America”. For the Irish, that’s like someone visiting Dublin and claiming full knowledge of the culture.
In Ireland, you’ll often hear that Dublin is not Ireland, and that you must head west to see and know the “real Ireland”. Galway, Cork, Connemara, Killarney, and many others are proudly, defiantly their own place. Mayo is remote, self-sufficient, coastal, and just a stone’s throw from Boston. Donegal is the harsh, brutal north. And Cork is, well, it’s Cork. Because there has been talk of secession, and the locals often consider themselves to be more “real” than others (particularly Dubliners), Cork is often referred to as “The Republic of Cork”.
It seems the seeds of rebellion are never thrown out, just quietly preserved. Once a country has rebelled, there may always be a bit of the rebel tucked away in some dusty cupboard of the soul. Even in modern, complacent, compliant, authority-obsessed Ireland there’s still a sense of uneasy détente – a feeling of unrest and disquiet roiling just beneath the public facade. It’s largely the local traits, customs, and priorities that dictate the thickness and condition of that veneer, controlling how often unrest and disquiet break through the surface.
But locality is more than just a place. It’s people too. Being a true “local” demands knowledge of people, stakes, history, and a deep sense of place grounded in that history (e.g. “That stone bridge was the site of a crucial battle during the uprising of XXXX. My second uncle’s brother-in-law’s great grandfather was killed there. He’d just stepped out of McGinty’s Pub where he was having a few jars…”]
But if you’ve moved somewhere new, and you genuinely want to get to know the locals, how do you yourself become a “local? Get involved in the community. It helps to have children. Parents bond over their kids, and share an unspoken hope for the future of their community – a sense of stakes.
Sadly, I think one of the things undermining our sense of local identity is the fact that so many young people have deserted Ireland in the past few years. As young people flee and older generations die off, the middle generations, who raised their children hoping that they would carry on their local community, have seen those hopes dashed as their children have emigrated to Australia, Canada, and the U.S. In the wake of that loss, a sense of “what’s the point” has taken hold, and more and more people have stopped fighting to maintain local control of the issues that affect their lives.
This loss of local control is yet another way that Ireland (like many other countries) doesn’t legislate (or live) the way that it imagines it does. While regionalism is still quite strong in the Irish heart, practical local control is largely a thing of the past. In a young country like Ireland, with a storied history of emigration rather than immigration, I’m anxious to see how the recent influx of immigrants alters the sense of local identity.
Living in Dublin, it’s interesting to see how certain parts of the city have started to be identified based on the immigrant owned markets and businesses in various neighborhoods. The city now has a number of strong Eastern European communities, and a growing Brazilian population. But whether those businesses, neighborhoods, and localities will ever wield any practical/functional control in civic life is yet to be seen.
Immigrants must be willing to accept the fact that, hard as we try, we may never be considered “locals”. Then again, we share a different sense of place. Without ties to a romanticized past that often has nothing to do with real modern life, we may be the only population capable of encouraging our new homes to move forward in ways that the “locals” cannot or will not.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
* Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country
* Corporate Taxes Abroad, and the Con Artistry of Luring Foreign Investment