There is peace found among the fields of home. There are paths in the grass worn by the same feet, beginning with the smallest of print all the way up to the ones I tread today. each time I pass over these grooves in the earth I am painfully aware that I am not the same person who walked here last.
I was born into a home out of reach of the civilised man. Because I was alone among farmland, my parents busied me with music and horse-riding. Between hobbies, there was a changing of the guard; the savageness of country schools where children were dragged up nettle-stung and scrape kneed, the quiet and focus of hours of classical music lessons and manuscript writing in the city, and the nastiness of horsie people. So even as young as seven years old, I could cycle through my personality to fit the situations I was in. To flank in amongst the other wild children.
Let it be known, I didn’t grow up in an open home. My mother is the epitome of kindness, well-seasoned in the people of the world, and aware that normality differs from person to person. She always made it clear to my brother and me that we could live whatever life we wanted. A nurse, she had met everyone under the sun, and through her life and work and her neo-Irish upbringing that involved no beatings and no Hail Marys, she provided a life-line to my brother and me.
My father is different; a young man raised by old men who lived beneath the clap of a shillelagh and the heavy hand of the Catholic Church. My father is a man plucked from the 1920’s and placed into the 21st century, and every day he goes to work with men who roll out of their grave in the morning and can recant in vivid detail the Spanish Inquisition. In him, the ways and values of old Ireland burn still, despite his intelligence, love for the arts and literature, and the many travels he’s been on.
So growing up, I found myself again cleaved between the daughter my mother allowed me to be and the daughter my father wanted me to be. Trying to be girly one moment and tomboyish the next. Watching NCIS and shopping with mam, and reading the poetry of Ted Hughes with dad.
Now enter the spanner, with which to jam the gears of the life I was creating.
Why do I like girls and boys? Why do I like girls and boys? Why. What is wrong with me? I am sick. Dad says they’re sinners. Mom says they’re not. The priest says they’re sinners. No one will talk about them. Maybe I just want to look more like that girl. You cannot love another woman. It makes me sick. I hate those people. They make me sick. Dad doesn’t like them. I love my dad. He would never love me if I was like that. But I’m not like that. I’m not like them. They’re sick. I’m not sick. I’m not sick.
I am not sick.
And like the tourniquet of a tumour, I cut off the part of me that let me feel.
Slotting into formation with those around me, putting my desires aside and spraying pesticide on the butterflies in my stomach. I placed my still-beating heart into a crypt of guilt and disgust and refused to mourn it for years.
Suddenly the blade of hatred and prejudice was pointed back at me. It is then you realise that every nasty comment you had ever heard or said was now a jab at yourself. The priest, the parish, my father hated me, they just didn’t know it yet.
Only late into secondary school did I finally begin to come to terms with the fact that years of suppression had changed nothing about who I was and how I felt. Unfortunately, true self-acceptance would have to wait. The people around me hadn’t and would never change. And with this realisation came a lot of anger, and nights wishing I could rattle the sense into the people around me. Angry that the part of me I had begun to forgive would remain a fugitive from those I knew and loved. In time you learn to forgive those people too.
Coming to Dublin is an old trove in every Irish tale. For years young folk have made their pilgrimage to the city where everything is new and fresh, and the stories aren’t wrong. As much as I might advocate for Cork to be the new capital, Dublin is an Ireland reborn. It’s the new beginning for so many of us, and in only three years of being here, I am now more me than I have ever been. Just as Setanta shed his name, I have shed mine.
And while we all drive forward in this young and writhing city, the south remains unchanged. Lockdown hammered home that I am too changed to feel at home there. I’ll grieve that in time, but for now I’ll continue to solidify my voice among the chorus of this city.
While I am a million miles away from totally accepting myself, I’m a hell of a lot closer than I was all those years ago. It takes time, and it hurts an awful lot, but my god is it worth it. I will always love rural Ireland, and its traditions and familiarity, and being honest, I wouldn’t have traded my childhood for the world and all its gold.
But I am happy to be here, away from the home I knew and now creating the home I want. I understand now the stories of the young men and women who left the west, and the wonder and promise of the city is the same as it was all those years ago. I don’t know what to tell you, but I do know what to tell the old me. You won’t have to hide forever. You will find somewhere you’re welcome.