Ireland: a place where one day I belonged

Ireland: a place where long ago I once belonged. And sometimes still do.

‘Whiskey is spelt with an ‘e’.’  That’s what my writing colleague told me 20 years ago after I’d asked him to comment on a short story of mine – he thought the story was alright but made it clear that I’d spelt whiskey incorrectly.  ‘That’s the Irish way,’ he said, in his broad, multi-generational Australian accent.

I too have Irish ancestry, though it dates back well over 200 years, so I took his point.  And ever since, no matter what I’m working on, even a column for a newspaper, I make sure that whiskey has its ‘e’.

A couple of years before the writerly conversation with my colleague, I visited Ireland – I did the typical young Australian thing of chucking everything in, donning a borrowed backpack, and flitting off on adventures overseas.  First I trained it across Canada in the North American mid-winter; I was told that it would look just like Tuggeranong – it didn’t.  Then I flew over the Atlantic and landed in London; being someone who also has English ancestry, I was told that I’d definitely ‘feel something in Old Blighty’ – I didn’t.  I caught the train to the top of Wales before riding the ferry across to Ireland.

Dublin.  What a city.  Eire in general.  All the faces seemed so familiar, as though I could tap a random person on the shoulder and they’d turn around and say, ‘Ah Nigel, you’re home!’  Which is absurd: I’m as Irish as a glass of water.  Still, I spent six weeks backpacking up the west coast, from Caherciveen to Inishboffin, which is like spending six weeks backpacking from Batemans Bay to Wollongong.  But I loved every minute of it, despite the rain, and the insidious damp, and the pale light.  The conversations.  One in particular, with a village shopkeeper.  She: ‘You have that Paul Keating as a prime minister.’  Me: ‘Yes, he’s a republican.’  She, deadpan: ‘And look at what republicanism’s done to Ireland.’

Regardless, when it was time to catch the ferry from Belfast to Scotland I had an Irish accent and now wore an emerald-green coat that made me look like a walking field.  A fortnight later, when I made it back to London, I found myself even more in love with Ireland, and even more out of love with the UK.

Had I become radicalised?

If so, my radicalisation has only ever manifested itself in spelling.

Whiskey is spelt with an ‘e’.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 13 July 2013.)

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