I left Ireland at 21, spent time in the Middle East, lived in New York, and finally settled in Paris, the city of my dreams.

Decades later, I revel in the City of Light but periodically feel like a fish out of water. I head home and risk feeling like a fish out of another body of water! I enjoy life, but that feeling of belonging, “neither here nor there,” can be hard to shake.

However, diasporic life has perhaps suited me better than had I stayed at home…

My father was 61, and my mother was 46½ when I was born. Their generation, who ‘immigrated’ to Dublin, might have also felt ‘displaced’. Our Phisborough house was a three-culture home. Daddy from Lusmagh, Offaly, and Mammy from Cappamore, Limerick. He was a Garda Síochána, and she was a civil servant. They met at a Dublin garda dance, married, had eight children, and lived ever after in Dublin. However, they never qualified as ‘Dubliners’ from their own or others' perspectives.

Rotunda-born, I’m a true-blue Dub who tripped to Horace’s beat: “They change the sky, not their soul, who rush across the sea.”

Horace was right; Irish ghosts clung wherever I rushed. Childhood stories of Black and Tans searching under Cappamore beds mingled with Lusmagh’s beautiful ghost, dressed in white, combing her long hair, and bloodcurdling Lusmagh sightings of fierce red-eyed black dogs and sinister cloven-hoofed strangers. I remember hiding under my father’s armchair while he sat in it and told those stories. However, my biggest fear was that he’d stop!

That closeness with my father didn’t last as his arteriosclerosis heartbreakingly progressed. However, with the help of family members and amazingly generous Lusmagh neighbours (many thanks, Ethna, Mary, Christy, Joachim, and Philomena), I recently laid my own Lusmagh ghosts somewhat to rest. Music also played an essential cathartic role.

I was ten the night my 71-year-old father announced, “Bring me my boots. My sister is dying.”

“But Frank, you don’t have a sister,” answered his wife of 32 years.

Nonetheless, he did.

Although it was a relatively typical Irish story of unwanted pregnancy and ostracization, my thunderstruck 10-year-old’s head turned from speaker to speaker following the surreal conversation.

Lamentably, by the time my father got to Lusmagh, his sister Mary Anne had passed. My mother believed my father’s secret had weighed heavily on him and the family and that the outing of it propelled his arteriosclerosis to its zenith.

We recently discovered that my father’s younger brother Pakie, ignoring the cruel norms of the times, followed his own counsel and secretly kept contact with Mary Anne.

On the impressive Killeen family tombstone in Kilmochoona Cemetery, Offaly, the names of the buried halted before our paternal grandparents. We retraced their genealogy data and recently inscribed them and their eight children on a memorial plaque. My first cousin’s name, Josephine Killeen, is now engraved on the new plaque under Mary Anne Killeen, her mother. Josephine’s name had been ‘omitted’ in Mary Anne’s 1971 obituary. Previously erased, they have now regained their place for posterity.

I’m often attracted to other ‘displaced’ people. Since attending Irish singer Liv Monaghan’s concert launch for "First Light," her second album, I've pondered these things greatly. 

The venue was the Son de la Terre riverboat, opposite Notre Dame (its iconic spire newly erected; it will reopen on 8 December.) Swaying on the Seine, we could see passersby on the Pont de l'Archevêché through the window. The Parisian event had a New York vibe.

When Monaghan took to the stage with Sava Medan and Soheil Tabrizi-Zadeh, we were transported through their ‘Paradise Folk’ vibes. Monaghan also gave an excellent rendition of Joni Mitchell’s "California."

Before singing "Bean Pháidín," she joked, "This is what Irish people can do to people they don’t like.” Her lilting Corkonian voice and unique vocal range married the melody, expressing a woman's hatred for her married lover's wife.

Monaghan is considered the best jazz-folk singer on the Parisian scene, and along with her Irish and Anglophone fan clubs, the Paris intelligentsia, musicians, and writers like Douglas Kennedy attend her concerts. She has lived here for over a decade, but her Irish poetry and soul are omnipresent in her work.

She spoke about her song "Alltar," an old Irish word meaning the veil between worlds: “I often feel between worlds, and that's also where the poetry comes from.

"In English, an altar can be a place of worship - or a place on which sacrifices are made. ‘Alltar’ is a song for displaced people.

"Through poetry and music, we can all find our way home to the source.”

In his article “Are the Irish Really “Impervious to Psychoanalysis?" Dr. James Fitzgerald stated, “Historically and culturally, catharsis and self-expression had and still has many forms in Ireland: the confessional booth, the pub, and art.” The art form that reaches my soul is the balm of magical lyrics and music.

Monaghan’s music plaited threads of jazz, soul, and folk at the concert, creating pure poetry that rocked the riverboat. She’s “a lover of the left behind, of old things and half-light ghosts that get stitched back up together.”

After the standing ovation for "Alltar,: I disembarked, feeling happily multicultural yet belonging.

Monaghan's lyrics and ability to bring us across worlds and timelines and connect us to home also reminded me that a diasporic life tapestry can be as rich as it is complicated. “What of longing for our homes? What of longing for our souls?”

The vocals on "Alltar," unaccompanied as per sean-nós tradition, also include Irish words that powerfully tug on heartstrings.

Since its release on May 3, "Alltar" and "First Light" have been playing on RTÉ and Radio France's airwaves and featured on Rolling Stone’s playlist.

The words “You’ll meet us in your dreams” echo our Irish ghosts. Peradventure, the flip side of my unbound, neither “here nor there” life, has been the ability to face my ghosts on my own terms, and as author Mary de Sousa maintains, “It’s a strange and sometimes wonderful thing to be neither here nor there.”

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