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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.)

‘So the movement,
the restlessness,

the striving,
the sense of never being at home,

and of being anywhere and everywhere
as at home as one might be.

And the impetus to get on,
even if one hardly knew the answer

to that question of questions
– get on where and why?’

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The past