Abhaile: literally, the Gaelic word for home; figuratively, much more.
Sitting in my Grandma’s cozy living room, I absorbed everything around me. It had been a long time since I was here last. A faint memory began to resurface, reminding me of a childhood I wish I had more of.
I am a first generation Irish-American. Born in the United States, my family quickly moved back to Ireland before I was even one year old. When living in Ireland did not work out as planned, I found myself living in the United States for the next eighteen years of my life. Since moving back to Maryland, a small state right outside Washington D.C., I have visited Ireland several times; every trip is a new experience and a time I will remember for the rest of my life.
Outside my granny’s home rain started to fall from the sky and oddly enough, with everyone in the room, it seemed as though I was the only one who noticed the clothes outside beginning to soak. “Georgina, tell Gillian about when you used to play camogie,” my Aunt hollered from the kitchen as she prepared her third cup of tea that morning.
The rain fell harder, rinsing the roof and ever so softly tumbling onto the patio. The vibrant colors of the clothes captivated my eyes once more, as my mind began to shift slightly from the conversation. Were our neighbors going to take down their clothes? The rain fell harder.
I returned to Ireland a few months ago with nothing but a few bags on my back. Traveling alone with only two friends, I was apprehensive about my trip. My family was more than welcoming, even though I am only able to see them once every few years. My time was short, but well stayed.
The few weeks I was in Ireland involved informative trips to the Kilmainham Gaol, the General Post Office, the Pearse Museum, and many more seminal sites. With the 1916 centenary this year, I wanted to learn more about Irish history and understand my own family’s involvement.
As an Irish-American in Ireland, I felt out of place. I was neither, technically speaking, fully Irish nor American. One night, while out and about around Temple Bar, a tourist pulled me aside and asked me where she could find The Button Factory. I knew where the club was; Ireland is my home too.
Confident in my response, I gave her directions to the venue. She must have been surprised when she heard my accent. This moment stuck with me. With my red hair and freckles, I must have looked like what she considered your average Irish woman. But for some, I am not “Irish enough” to claim my rightful heritage. For others, I am too passionate about my Irish culture; “You’re not really American,” some say.
Oftentimes I even find myself judging other Irish-Americans who continuously say “Patty’s Day.” “Oh, the Irish?” they say, “What a load of drinkers.” Whenever I hear statements like that, I am disappointed. Do people really think of me like that? I left Temple Bar that night satisfied. For once, I felt like I was “Irish enough.”
After spending a few weeks with loved ones, I came back to America with the word “saoirse” tattooed on my back. It means freedom; it is what Ireland gives me.
Positioning myself to get comfortable on the couch, I gazed again at the vivid clothes hanging outside. The sight gave me a sense of familiarity that put me at ease. This was my family and this was my home. The clothes were not just clean laundry; they represented a part of who I am and where I come from.
A custom that is one I am not used to. Hanging laundry to dry was not a part of my routine cycle in suburban America, or even something I was used to seeing, but at the time it never occurred to me to question why my Grandma did not use a dryer. There was more to it than that. The clothes, hanging on the line, represented a beautiful simplicity that I have never before appreciated.
Since my last visit to Ireland, I have been working on a research paper that discusses various communication tactics that Irish Revolutionaries have historically used to further their freedom movement. Through this research paper, I hope my examination of the different means of communication in the context of Ireland’s repressive history could reflect how different social groups advance their ideals and values during times of oppression.
How odd was the notion that I, an American-raised young adult, could even begin to tackle such a huge Irish issue. Except I am not really American; I am Irish-American. Sure, I do not say “Happy Christmas,” or tell my friends I will “ring ‘em” back, encourage them by telling them “ah, yer grand,” or even begin stories by saying “well I says to her, I says, says I.” I do not even talk with an Irish accent.
The sun bled through the clouds ever so softly, shining light on the clothes. I did not have to choose whether I was Irish or American, it was decided for me. I am a Casey, an O’Cathasaigh. Failte Abhaile. Welcome home.