I got a Kerryman for Christmas in 2002. I was 21 and in my senior year of college in Boston. I was at my parent’s house in Maine for the holidays and when we were dragged downstairs early on Christmas morning by my younger sister, there was a black-haired 21-year-old boy from Kerry asleep on the couch.
My younger brother explained he was Johnny, from Kerry, and tuna-fishing along the East Coast with some mutual fisherman friends. They had been at a party last night and my brother insisted he come meet his sister who could take him out to the bars in Portland. We went out a few times over Christmas break and then I headed back to finish my senior of University in Boston and Johnny headed off to find a berth on a tuna boat.
We talked on the phone for the next few months. Johnny ended up at an old chicken farm owned by a boat captain in Maryland. He helped with renovations until the fishing season started in the spring. I started teaching in Dorchester with a non-profit and graduated from Tufts University that spring. Johnny was moving around and we lost each other’s phone numbers as I headed to work on Cape Cod for the summer.
A few months later Johnny walked into our local bar in Chatham, Massachusetts. His boat was headed back out and I was moving back to Boston to teach again. We stayed in touch when we could and when Johnny moved back to Ireland at the end of the year, he rang my parent’s house at Christmas.
He invited me to visit and without hesitation I booked an Aer Lingus flight to Shannon for $200 (this was possible back in 2003). Our friendship quickly turned into a long-distance relationship and we made plans to travel together in New Zealand after saving up enough money.
In hindsight, I am astounded at my 23-year-old self for taking this risk with a boy from a tiny village in west Kerry. We admittedly had nothing in common and knew very little about each other but after finishing our trip, I decided to move to Ireland.
I was accepted into a Masters program at NUI Galway and we both moved to Galway in 2005. Fast forward 10 years and we are married. We now live in West Kerry (no surprises there), and have an Irish son and daughter complete with ‘brogues’ to my family’s delight. I have managed a government programme based in Kerry County Council, have left the same job and am now staying at home with my children and waiting on a Green Card interview at the Dublin Embassy for my husband and contemplating another life and career change.
It’s hard to imagine how different my life would have been for the past 10 years if I had stayed in Boston rather than taking off across the world with a young Irish man but I can safely guess my life would not have included:
- Working with Irish Traveller families during a violent feud in Tralee. Since I’d never heard of Irish Travellers before moving to Galway, it’s hard to believe I ended trying to negotiate between families who fought each other with slash hooks, crowbars, and chains in cemeteries, outside the courthouse and in the local hospital.
- A week-long Irish wedding complete with uilleann pipes, two minor(ish) car accidents, Poitín fuelled arm wrestling contests, a guest ‘lost’ in the hotel halls in his underwear, and a lost passport .
- Six months maternity leave with full-pay and the option of four months unpaid after having my children. On the flip-side, my OB/GYN might have known my name and I probably wouldn’t have been in a six-bed ward next to a Traveller woman who had just had her 14th baby.
- Chasing horses and cows out of my garden on a regular basis when I forget to close the gate, including trying to round up 20 cows while heavily pregnant.
- Hiring and firing a Florida-based Irish immigration lawyer because I couldn’t stomach paying $3,500 for paperwork to be filled out so I could move back to my own country.
- Helping coach 20 under-six year olds learn Gaelic football.
- Welcoming a group of rag and mask-wearing musicians into my house on St. Stephen’s Day and then giving them money and following them around the local pubs. Forget the wren; I’d be back to work the day after Christmas.
- Missing 11 Thanksgivings and Fourth of Julys, as well as countless milestones and family events, including saying good-bye to my grandmother before she died and my grandfather’s funeral.
- Paddling on a stand-up paddle board from the beach in front of my house to an island exploring the ruins of an ancient monastic settlement.
- Two children correcting my pronunciation of ‘zebra’ and ‘tomato’ and insisting I call oatmeal, porridge.
Now as I wait for the immigration gods to perform their unexplainable miracles, I am nervous and excited at the thought of returning to Maine as a foreigner. I am nervous for my husband and children because I know it will be hard to start over in a new country. I am excited for the opportunities the next ten years will bring and I am excited my family will be a bigger part of our lives. I am nervous though because I have spent ten years creating a life in Ireland and I might find out America doesn’t feel like my home anymore.