Hi, my name is Katie and I’m caught in a love triangle.
My loves are so different. One is unfailingly polite, usually wears plaid shirts, drinks maple syrup by the gallon and is a major hockey enthusiast. The other is a mischievous drunk, mad for a bit of craic, a lovable, musical rogue.
One is Canada and the other is Ireland.
Lemme explain – I was born in the mid-nineties to two Irish parents in Toronto, Canada.
My first memories are all Canada based- our first house, meeting my little sister for the first time, etc. When we made the move back to Meath I apparently had a little Canadian accent. Yeah, I was hella cute.
When I began to grow bored of the countryside, I would ask why in the name of god they left one of the most exciting, multicultural cities in the world and leave me in Meath of all places. Meath!
If ‘Being Irish’ and I were in a relationship on Facebook it would be ‘It’s complicated’.
I couldn’t wait to go back to mother-mapel land. So when my chance came to study abroad in third year I jumped at it, signing on for anywhere in Canada without a second thought.
I got University of Waterloo, a large engineering university in a medium sized city two hours outside of Toronto.
I learned a lot in that year, and barely any of it academic. I learned a lot about being Irish, or not as Irish as I thought I was.
There’s a certain amount of preconceptions that follow you as an Irish(ish) abroad. Let me give you a bit of a list:
Everyone expects you to be super Catholic. Yes of course I’m devotee, Susan, that’s why I’m chatting to you in a grimy nightclub, wearing a crop top and smuggling a hip flask.
They expect you to come from a thatched roof cottage surrounded by sheep. I once got asked if we have internet in Ireland. Yes, Brad, yes we do.
One that never fails to rail any Irish person up is when they assume we’re part of England.
WE ARE A SEPARATE COUNTRY, KAREN, SIT DOWN!
Everyone expects you to be a walking encyclopaedia of Irish ancestry. I briefly considered carrying around Shamrock stickers with me to give to anyone calling themselves “Irish”
Awh your great-grandad’s second cousin’s wife’s dog was from Cork? That’s cute, Jeffery, here have a sticker.
And of course, the Irish reputation for drinking
No, Janet, it’s 10am on a Tuesday, I’m not drunk you uneducated buffoon.
Let’s just park it up here for a second and talk about our drinking reputation.
It proceeds us, it follows us, and frankly it makes a fool of us. I am all for a few pints and a bit of craic but being constantly reminded that we are a nation of ‘drunks’ really got to me.
In my experience, other nations (I’m looking at you Brits and Australians) are just as bad for the auld binge-drinking, we just happened to build our culture around it.
Literally, there’s at least one Irish pub in every city and big town in the world. I found it weird to be in a pub that called itself Irish and there being literally nothing Irish about it apart from a few Guinness signs and ‘Paddy’s’ put in front of every second menu item.
I accepted my fate and got a job in an Irish bar. Not gonna lie, I played the accent up for tips. It felt weird, like I was putting on a show.
The non-Irishness of Irish bars pale in comparison to this specific drink. It’s called the Irish Car Bomb. It’s a Guinness with a shot of whiskey and Baileys.
I once clarified how offensive it was to me by likening it walking into a kebab shop and ordering an Isis Doner.
I found myself constantly explaining that Ireland isn’t all potatoes and starving peasants.
But that got me thinking. What exactly is Irishness? What do you get when you strip away the shamrocks, the pints and the “Pog Mo Thoin” t-shirts?
What does it actually mean to be Irish in 2018? It’s something that been defined and redefined constantly.
Emigration is something that has long been part of being Irish. There’s not one Irish family that doesn’t have cousins in Australia or an aunt in the U.S. Leaving and defining ourselves abroad is something that we’re used to- it’s been bet into our existence through centuries of poverty and oppression.
Since the early 2000's with the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere, along with a greater awareness of the world outside our tiny island, we suddenly had to look at ourselves and question the foundations that Ireland is built on.
And we should question it; question why our direct provision and immigration laws are so outdated in an increasingly globalized world, question why so many children are homeless, question why the Catholic church runs 90% of our primary schools.
Question why I’m treated like a second class citizen in my own country.
In Canada I can turn up at any clinic with my healthcare card and ask for a medical procedure that would get me jailed for 14 years in Ireland.
But it’s home, and I refuse to give up on it just yet. I’m proud to be Irish. I’m proud to see how far we’ve come for equality and acceptance in such a short space of time.
I’m proud of our rich culture and world-class literature. I just wish there could be more of an urge to grow as country, to accept our flaws and change them for the better.
Ireland’s not perfect, Canada’s not perfect. But I love them both.
Like I said, it’s complicated.