Editors Note: Dubliner Eoin Brennan interned for the Irish Voice for a year in 2012, and returning home has been a shock to the system.
It's now a little over a year back in Dublin for me, since the end of a year living in New York. Initial feelings of emptiness and despair at having to say goodbye to a life, and place, I came to love have subsided, if not disappeared.
What has replaced it is a strange mixture of the permanent mixed with constant uncertainty. Ireland is stuck in a dark place, and we still have no idea where we’re going.
Five months passed following my return to Ireland before I got the chance to go back to work. The work is interesting and provides me with excellent experience, and I feel lucky to be able to work in my chosen field in the current economic climate. I may be offered a permanent placement when my contract finishes, but it seems unlikely.
Should that reality come to pass, I imagine it’s time for serious consideration of emigration. Off to London, perhaps, maybe Canada. Even Hong Kong has been considered.
Ideally my next destination would be New York, but the U.S. visa process remains a difficult barrier to negotiate, to put it mildly.
Sadly, if leaving Ireland does become a necessity, a return to America now seems the longest shot.
The Ireland I left two years ago was still in the grasp of a fever contracted from the most severe financial crisis in memory. It felt like those who didn’t quickly make it to a plane or boat would be trapped beneath the falling rubble of a crumbling country.
The Ireland I’m in now feels calmer, in some senses. Or quieter, at least.
Maybe it’s as simple as there being less people here. Maybe we’re more at peace with our situation, on the surface. The anger has not abated, perhaps just internalized.
The fallout from the financial crisis is still on the air -- thick and wrapped around the threads of our lives. Lingering like stale smoke.
We’re still broke, we’re still living with a poor health service, and more than ever we are forcing teachers, police officers and all manner of public servants to take the hit and cover the nation’s massive losses.
Unemployment is now higher, austerity measures cut deeper than ever before, while the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.
Meanwhile, last year saw the highest level of emigration since the Famine. People leaving school and college enter a job market bereft of prospects and face working long hours for free in the hope of eventual gains.
Countless families are still burdened with mounting debt and too many individuals are sliding into the darkness of depression. We’re still cutting benefits for the weakest at every opportunity.
We’re going against everything that feels right. That wears a society down, to see how we chip away at each other (or someone does it in our name) just to get by.
Even if we don’t speak about it every day, even if we seem to be willing and able to carry on and smile – it still leaves a mark.
It makes us all complicit in the misery and hacks away at our collective self-esteem. It causes us to turn on each other as we play the circular rounds of a pointless blame game.
In real terms we’re still drifting, gripping the crumbling debris of our country – sometimes feeling like the driftwood lingering off Europe’s west coast. And, yet, it all feels less panicked, more at peace with our lot.
Is it shock? Is it acceptance? Is it determination and grit rising above the hardship? Or is it some form of mass depression, a great anger turned inwards?
We’ve lost a lot in the past five years. But it’s not the money. It’s not the houses. It’s not the new cars. It’s not the several holidays a year that people want back.
The absence created by their departure isn’t the catalyst for how we feel. It’s the injustice that permeates every level of our lives now, in one way or another.
It’s the deep cuts to healthcare, education and emergency services and what they mean for people’s lives. It’s the long queues at the social welfare office that stretch down the street.
It’s the forced emigration. It’s the silent pain carried by those left behind. It’s the final glance over a young shoulder at a weeping mother waving through a crowd in the airport departures hall.
It’s the memories we know we won’t be able to forget, and the people we know who probably won’t return. This is the lasting legacy.
It’s the rapidly climbing numbers of young people who choose to take their own lives. We’ve got one of the highest suicide rates in the EU, a rise directly linked with the economic situation.
It’s what all of those things mean when they are more than words and statistics, when they are someone’s life -- when they become Monday to Sunday until they can’t face Monday ever again.
It’s what stats and figures and debts and news stories are when they are reality. It’s when all of that accumulates. It’s what it does to us.
It’s the toll all of those blows take on our self-respect as a nation, on our collective mentality. It’s the lack of respect, both internal and external, for your country and for yourself.
These are things I often wonder if we can get past, if we can recover from.
In the summer of 1990 the Irish soccer team went to the World Cup for the first time. The qualification for the tournament and our participation didn’t cause excitement among the population -- they engendered mass hysteria. A nation collectively lost its mind amid a sea of sporting escapism.
It left a legacy that carries on to this day. It is one of our fondest collective memories, and it came during the tail end of one of our bleakest periods.
An entire nation lost control of itself for a summer. It was a time when we were inclined to willingly lose our minds.
Somebody offered an escape, and every person who hadn’t left the country went running towards the light.
In the summer of 2012 Ireland qualified for soccer’s European Championship, our first visit to the competition since 1988. We dreamt of a repeat of the 1990 World Cup, when we had gone as underdogs and come back with the world’s respect.
What we got was a global humiliation. Three games, three defeats.
Europe’s best toyed with Ireland’s best. We were made look like amateur oafs pitted against the superior master.
A nation quickly went into the mass grieving process, and pre-tournament elation evaporated with hoarse notes of “The Fields of Athenry” drifting into the skies above the Polish host city of Poznan.
Europe lauded the good nature and indomitable spirit of the Irish supporters; those plucky masses in green who turned up, drank plenty but never caused trouble and, even with a good humiliation in the back pocket, kept on singing their charming songs.
There was even a trophy for the best fans. Really.
It was utterly patronizing. What we wanted was to win. To be respected on merit. In the way we once were. What we got was a pat on the head while Europe’s best kicked us up the arse.
It all felt very familiar. Like, maybe, this is just how it is now. It just is. This is our lot.
There was redemption -- or relief at least -- at the London Olympics. Katie Taylor, a young boxer from Co. Wicklow.
The hunger for an Irish victory, of any kind, became apparent when the crowd inside the Olympic boxing arena, almost entirely made up of Irish fans (despite Taylor facing a British boxer), set a record for decibel levels at the Olympic games.
Taylor won gold and we enjoyed a wonderful moment when, for the first time in a while, the world looked at us with fair eyes and saw something good. There would be no pat on the head this time.
It was an overdue reminder. We remembered what it was like to stand up and be proud of ourselves.
But there are only so many sporting moments into which we can escape as a nation, only so many ways we can live vicariously through the victories of others.
Ultimately, how we see ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, will be composed of how we live the rest of our lives, how Ireland is as a place to live.
And right now it feels like we are under a cloud where life gets harder and staying here gets harder to justify.
As much as it’s a wonderful gift to explore the world, as many young Irish now do, you wish it didn’t have to be for these reasons.
Personally, I have to consider myself lucky. Although that is, of course, all relative.
I have a job, albeit temporary, and have avoided the very worst of the effects of the economic collapse. I am prepared for the reality that I may have to leave Ireland again, but I know I’ll survive. That’s enough for me.
I’m always aware of how much worse it could have been. Many have not been so well insulated.
Those people who face debts they know they can’t pay, and find themselves swallowed whole by a beast far bigger than them -- those thousands for whom the term recession feels like a tidy byword for disaster.
The longer we can’t find pride in who we are, the deeper the scars will run.