Essay

On coming home

March 6, 2017

The moment the airplane tyres jerkily touch down at Dublin airport, my heart does a little leap. I’m home. I beam, with pride, relief and exhaustion. Emotion swells up in me, but I hold back the tears. I don’t want to be a cliché, the ultimate object of derision in Ireland. As a nation, we’re not an emotional bunch unless there’s cause for it, or alcohol is involved.  If I’m flying Aer Lingus, my heart swells again when the prim voice of an air hostess welcomes me home as Gaeilge “fáilte mór roimh go Baile Átha Cliath”.

I step out into the chilly Dublin airport. I feel my shoulders relax; I’m among my own people again. They get me and I get them. Instinctively, we know each other. I notice the accents, the inflections, the posture, the gait and the outfits of each passenger, placing them within a context. I feel less like an alien, because these are my people.

A middle aged fella with fuzzy hair poking out from under his flat cap walks not with a limp but a crooked-ness, as if his left side is his favourite and he’d rather go easy on it. I hear a lady clear her throat. Through that guttural sound, I locate her accent; south county Dublin. She’s irked to be in among us economy folk. During the boom, she flew regularly but only business class. She considers Ryanair’s cheap seats as just one step above transportation in a cattle prod.

There’s a kid crying. I notice the sharp, scary intake of breath.  The cabin braces itself for the roar to come. “waaaaaaah” he bellows. It doesn’t stop. An air hostess hands him a bright yellow lollipop. He sucks it, and then fires it into her hair. His mother’s face reddens, mortified. 

In the airport, I feel Ireland embrace me. I see how clean and organised it seems, but know that it’s only for show. We’re trying to impress the visitors. It’s nice to be in on the joke.

I can pick out the retuning Irish folk from the immigration queue. They’re sauntering, silently appraising the tourists in the queue as if they had the power to deny their entry. The flat-capped farmer clears his throat loudly. It’s a sound intended to establish his presence, “all you visitors are encroaching on my territory” he seems to say. The foreigners shrink, I smile.

The guard at immigration has a twinkle in his eye. He likes to see young Irish people coming home. “What are ya doin’ in New York?” he asks, not because he wants to know but to remind me that I’m in Ireland now and my high flying New York routine won’t work here. “Ara sure, workin’ away”, I respond dismissively. “Good”, he says, and stamps my passport. My nonchalance is the key to the door.

I am of this tribe. This is where I belong. Among this flawed, imperfect nation of tribal, island people. We tell self-effacing stories, work like maniacs and drink too much. We’re generous souls, but critical thinkers. We’re warm if we like you, and dismissive if we don’t. We are proud and humble, small-minded and curious, forgiving and contrary. I am of this tribe. I belong here.

P.S. Since I’m loving staycations so much, I might never leave again!

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