It goes back years, if not decades. I remember as a kid in the library under our apartment, how I traveled through Ireland by sitting down and watching pictures in big books on Ireland. I could not imagine that the Ireland in the travel guides was the same Ireland we used to see onat night, where people were killed in bomb attacks and house fires in the north, where people were executed for their religion, their beliefs.
Of course, the news reports were about Northern Ireland. Somehow I was attracted to the underdog, and in my eyes Ireland was the underdog. I’ve always had a thing for underdogs; often they turn out to be fantastic beings or things, or even better… Winners of long and hard-fought battles. In my eyes Ireland was the winner and nothing could deter me from thinking that way. I was too young to really understand what it was all about, and even now, after all my time living here, Irish history is an immensely complex thing.
High school came and went, and I was still quite interested in what was happening in Ireland. I read literature by brilliant Irish authors, read travel guides, dreamed I was sitting in pubs listening to traditional music, dreamed of green hills, the Old Library at Trinity College, of Connemara, of the Ring of Kerry, of everything Irish.
For years I did nothing about that dream. Oh, I dreamed, but I was afraid of that dream being one big fail. I went to college and worked in a library where of course, my lunch breaks consisted of reading more books on Ireland. However, my heart would ache. I felt homesick and I felt like a stranger in my own country. I would see pictures, documentaries and videos and I would cry, because I was not in the country I wanted to be in.
That was it. I realised that dreams do have a habit of turning into reality once you put time, energy and a lot of self-belief in them. Even though it took me some years to make that giant step, I knew that Ireland was it: my raison d’être and my future.
The Celtic Tiger offered job opportunities and a way to make my dreams of living in Ireland come true. Sure, I already had been in Ireland at that stage, and loved it even more, so it added to the idea that things were starting to fall into place. When a few months later my library position could not be renewed, and my relationship had come to an end, I saw these as signs that it was time. THAT time has arrived.
Boyfriend or no boyfriend, I was going to move to Ireland because it was my dream, and if I believed in anything, it was to make your dreams come true because life was too short to do anything else.
The job hunt started and I was extremely lucky to be able to secure 3 interviews with multinational companies. Five weeks after the breakup and yet another week in Ireland, I was on my way to, preparing for interviews and seeing my dreams becoming reality. I secured a job on day two and “if I could start 10 days from the day of my interview, that would be great?” I was completely over the moon, I was pinching myself every 5 minutes to see if I was dreaming or not, if I wouldn’t wake up and realize it was not happening at all.
But it did… The 10 days in Belgium were mad, packing, deciding what to take and what not, and more packing, paperwork to get in order, contracts to be signed and again more packing. It was madness in a happy way as far as I was concerned, but my mum & dad were sad to see me go. But as my dear, sweet mum always says: “I’d rather have you living happy in Ireland than unhappy in Belgium”.
The day I moved to Ireland was on Halloween, and the fireworks, the happy people and the party atmosphere welcomed me with such open arms I still remember that day as if it was yesterday.
“Yes, but why Ireland?!” I would be asked.
“Why not?!” was my way of thinking!
The music. The literature. Irish people. Rugby. Nature. Humour. Art. History… I felt connected to everything Irish in ways I hardly ever felt connected to my Belgian background, or the history, or the literature, or the music. Belgium as a country seemed too narrow-minded for me, too serious, too noisy, too dirty, too flat (The Netherlands and Belgium are called the Low Lands for a reason), too much of everything I didn’t want, or need.
Almost 9 years later, I’m still living here, in the country of saints and scholars, of Yeats and Joyce, of green, lush mountains and very friendly people. But please don’t get me wrong, not everything is as it should be in Ireland. The Celtic Tiger has long lost its roar, there’s a lot of unemployment, backwards thinking and of people who wished they were somewhere warmer and better. I’ve had boyfriends who didn’t turn out to be my prince charming. I’ve been diagnosed twice with an illness that would turn my life upside-down. I’ve had to quit my job to look after my health.
Of course, moving countries means that you miss out on family happenings, and I miss my family terribly, but they know I am in Ireland for a reason, and not just because of my love for everything Irish. They have visited me on numerous occasions and they always come back, always willing to see and do more. Thank god for the internet, Skype and all the other social networks that keep us connected, otherwise my living abroad would be a totally different experience for all of us.
I keep my mum’s words in my mind… Better to be happier in Ireland, than unhappy somewhere else. And I am happy here. I may have lost some of my abilities, but that does not make me completely disabled. I have lost some people whom I loved with all my heart, but they are with me, always. I have had to quit work, but I’ve regained some of the things I had lost by working too hard and living too little. I learned to love new things instead.
And at the end of the day, isn’t life supposed to be full of the love and friendship, of being able to do what you can and by caring for other people? I do all that in Ireland, from Ireland and with all my heart, wherever my family and friends are, however, I may be.
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