I was born in the USA, and when I was three my parents whisked me and my brothers and sister back to Ireland. I don’t have many early memories of America, but I’ve been told I returned to Ireland with a Southern accent (the last place we lived was in Georgia).
My mother was always ‘Mom’, and my grandparents were ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa’, something I took for being entirely normal, but it was one of a number of signs of my difference.
It’s only been for the last few years that I’ve come to realise how much that sense of being from another place shaped the formation of my identity in Ireland.
Like many people who grow up in a small town my ambition was to leave it! First to Galway city for college, and then to New York for summers and eventually to live.
New York will always have a special place in my heart. Whenever I return I am constantly struck at its energy and sense of possibility. This is a wonderful combination for anyone who is young and trying to figure things out. The teeming streets are home to dynamic and generous people, far more than the dangerous ones. Some of my oldest and dearest friends live there.
Of course, the city is fickle and sometimes cruel. In New York your safety net can be gossamer-thin, and below it are rocks.
In Ireland, the tighter community results in fewer crash landings when life takes dreadful turns, but the trade-off is less anonymity.
I’ve been settled in Ireland – first in Dublin and now in Galway – for a long time, but I’m not sure I ever feel truly in synch here. Yet, I love the land, and the absurd, fantastical humour of our warm-hearted people.
I’ve also been heartened by how much Ireland has developed in the past decade or so. There’s more acceptance of difference, and a recognition that we are a modern society hosting a variety of people. We have our crises and retrograde moments, but the country a much more tolerant place to live in since I arrived on its shores as a child emigrant.
I may always feel like someone who is of two places, and it’s likely neither of them will ever have complete sway over my soul. I suspect this liminal state of un-belonging has been a factor in what interests me as a writer. After all the struggle to forge our place in the world, against or with cultural/parental/religious expectations, is one of our defining experiences as human beings, and the subject of much fiction.
My experiences are both unique and similar. That’s where you mine your ideas for writing: along the edge, but near the seam.