By Francine Cunningham
It’s mid-summer when I land at Dublin airport, back in my home country after more than two decades. At the security control, I show my Irish passport, while my Belgian-Dutch husband and our son present their different passports. We join the throng in the arrivals hall where my mother is waiting, already in tears. Two of my two oldest friends from student days are also here to welcome us to Ireland.
This never happened. Yes, I arrived back with my husband and son in August 2019, but my mother wasn’t waiting. She died three years earlier. I never got the chance to tell her that we were re-locating to Ireland, She would have been beside herself. Of my two oldest friends, one was tragically lost to breast cancer some years ago, leaving behind two teenage boys, while another old friend (one of the bubbliest people you could ever hope to meet) was in recovery from chemotherapy and already cocooning. I’d been away a long time. Maybe too long.
Heraclitus said: ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’ Well, I had been living abroad so long, the whole river had probably changed course.
In reality, I arrived back in the lashing rain (even though it was August). The days before leaving had been full of frantic arranging, paperwork, packing and removals vans. It was near midnight by the time we drove on the wrong side of the road (for us) around the Dublin airport complex looking for the ‘pet cargo’ depot where I picked up a rather stressed old cat that we couldn’t possibly leave behind. I was exhausted, my husband grumpy. The cat peed in his travel cage in the back of our hired car, just a few minutes from our new place in Rathgar. We had arrived. I already knew it would be a while before we could call it home.
After two decades spent studying, working and living in Brussels, Paris, New York and Boston, I was going to live on this incredible island again. When I married a Dutch-speaking newspaper man 20 years earlier, I had never imagined having the opportunity to live back in Ireland again. Then, in a strange twist of fate, he was the one whose job actually sent him to Dublin. I would be commuting back and forth between our new home in Rathgar and my law firm in Brussels.
So, there I was, a gone-native European accidently washed back up on the shores of Ireland. Of course, I had been back on visits many times over the years, usually for a few days full of family commitments. The prospect of living here was something quite different.
Over the years. I also watched with pride, from a distance, as Ireland evolved towards a more liberal state, outward-looking state. It had earned its reputation as a real hub for creativity and innovation. Yet I can’t honestly say that I pined for the place I used to call home. Was that because at that time I had no prospect of going back, so had wiped that possibility out of my mind? Or was it because at this stage I’m more continental European than Irish? I guess that I was about to find out.