Tir na nOg: The concerns of a returning immigrant

Tir na nOg: The concerns of a returning immigrant

This is an essay filled with twists, turns and piss. If you’ve ever been a confused immigrant not knowing where to stand in the shifting sands of modernity, you’ll relate to this piece. If you haven’t… well, good for you and I’m jealous.

The great epissany

The idea of an epiphany is an interesting one. It’s a cerebral occurrence that can radically change a person or person’s life. Do not under-estimate the power of an epiphany just because the word has been all too often overused in tired and coerced high school essays.  For example, Tom hated John all summer but right before school resumed, he had an epiphany that John wasn’t all that bad, sorry Tom but it sounds like you have early-onset schizophrenia and if left untreated will result in a fridge full of semen covered John lookalikes.

Epiphanies are one of the most powerful forces on earth! Think of the famous men and women who epitomise this. In 1976, Steve Jobs had an epiphany that helped him destroy human interaction, in the early 2010s Iggy Azalea had an epiphany to sabotage lyricism in hip hop and in the 1970’s Theodore Bundy had the epiphany that women like confidence. I’m not saying these sudden and certain realisations are genius, correct, moral or humane – I’m just saying that they are powerful.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a man with his “shit together”. I like to remind myself that I’m healthy (Monday to Thursday at least), somewhat educated (I have an undergraduate degree, but one day last year, my housemates were discussing their love of lentils and I was convinced it was a band), I’ve never killed someone (that I’m aware of) and I’m moderately happy. All this being said, I spend most days pondering what I’m doing with my life and what I’m going to do next – it’s like anxiety but motivational, or depression without the calories… neuroticism lite! However, the one pillar of certainty that I had been leaning against over the last few months has been that come next month I’m moving back home to Ireland.

I’ve lived in Vancouver, Canada for almost two years now and I certainly call this beautiful place my home. The idea to move out here wasn’t an epiphany but a calculated and thought out process by myself and quite a few of my close friends.

The game plan was:

  1. Graduate with a degree that no employer wants;
  2. Move across the world to escape from that daunting fact and enjoy yourself for two years;
  3. Move back to Ireland and complete a Masters to make yourself less useless.

Two out of three are completed and I am on my way to a full house… well at least I was.

A fortnight ago, my friends and I went out for a feed of pints and in the old Irish tradition, they chastised and berated me from a place of love. They questioned my intelligence, scoffed at my intentions, rebuked my lack of foresight and called me a cunt. I certainly had a lot to think about. That next morning, for the first time in approximately 15 years I pissed myself. Yes, I pee’d the sheets, wet the bed and everything in between. It was in that moment, as I gazed upon my warm, saturated crotch and sheets, that something powerful hit me – I can’t go home yet.  I immediately reached over for my phone at 5.12am on a Sunday morning and proceeded to call Manpindeer, a customer service representative working on behalf of AirCanada. While I lay there in a pool of my own piss, I had an immense bolt of clarity.

“Delay my flights Manpindeer”, I demanded.
“Oh but of course szar”, he responded.

It was the hilarious humiliation of wetting the bed that gave me the rock bottom confidence to decide that I cannot return to Ireland yet. Whether or not it was the right decision remains to be seen. I’m confident that it was not a transcendent gift bestowed upon me by a higher power. Realistically, the decision (and the pissing) came from a place of fear. Perhaps, it’s a fear of underachieving or perhaps it’s a fear of what I’m returning to. However, I like to romanticise the situation and say it was something more spontaneous. It was an epiphany. It was an e-piss-any.

Emmett Walsh/@_diabhal666_

A big white horse

Being named Fionn I was reared on the tales of Irish myths and fables. For those who aren’t aware of Irish mythology, it contains some of the most bizarre, beautiful and tortured stories ever told. I feel like I have a deep connection with these stories that surmounts my namesake. As it has been years since I’ve heard these old Irish tales and in particular the myth which pertains to this essay, I conducted some brief research to refresh my memory. That was a mistake. These stories have a wildness to them that the claustrophobic confines of a website or lined refill pad inevitably end up smothering all of the sumptuous madness out of them. Ideally, I would prefer that they were roared at you from a one-eyed midget trying to drink himself out of a bathtub of gin. Alas, getting that much gin is far too expensive so, here is the tale of Oisin in Tir na nOg:

This story takes place thousands of years ago, back when the Celtic Tiger was a massive green cat with three heads and when it howled, the sound of Sinead O’Connor orgasming to the tune of the Foggy Dew bellowed from its neck. Eire was protected by a man named Fionn Mac Cumhaill. He was feared, loved and vehemently sought after. He was also the leader of the fiercest clan of men on the island, na Fianna. Fionn’s adventures are legendary but this story is not about him, it’s about his son – Oisin.
One day while hunting deer, na Fianna were approached by the most beautiful girl they had ever seen, with long golden hair down to her waist, dressed in pale blue and surrounded by light. She looked like a young Nicole Kidman – if she was raised by a band of gipsies. She rode close to na Fianna and declared “I am Niamh of the Golden Hair and my father is King of Tír na nÓg. I have heard of a great warrior named Oisín. I have to come to find him and ask him to return with me to the Land of the Young.” Oisín accepted Niamh’s invitation, having immediately fallen in love with this beautiful princess from another land, and waving goodbye to Fionn and the Fianna, he jumped on the snow-white horse with Niamh.

Over the land and the sea, the horse ran, reaching the magical shores of Tír na nÓg. The king and queen welcomed Oisín and held a great feast in his honour. It was a magical land whereby day Oisín hunted and feasted, and at night he sat and told ancient stories of Fionn, the Fianna and Ireland.

Oisín lived in Tír na nÓg for 300 years, but soon the longing to return to the Emerald Isle began to overcome his love of the Land of Eternal Youth.

“The pints aren’t the same here luv and the women at the deli haven’t even heard of wedges” he griped to his wife.  Niamh did not want him to go, but she agreed, warning him that if he were to “set foot on the soil of Ireland, you will never be able to return to Tír na nÓg.”

Oisín reached Ireland to find that everything had changed – to him it felt as though just three short years had passed instead of 300. There was no longer the sight of his father or the Fianna hunting through the hills, and the castle he once called home had now begun to crumble. As he passed through Gleann na Smol, the Valley of the Thrushes, he saw a group of men trying to move a large stone. Oisín wanted to help, leaning down in his saddle to do so and lift the stone, but the saddle strap broke and he fell to the ground. Immediately the magical white and mighty horse galloped away and all of a sudden, the great hero Oisín became a withered, old man, ageing before the men’s very eyes. The End.

The open-ended cynicism of this story epitomises the beauty of Irish mythology. They have a uniquity to them that Hollywood writers would find unmarketable and strange but what they haven’t realised is that strangeness is the first stepping stone to finding the craic in life. Why does this story play in my mind when I fearfully think of returning home? I believe this tale can be employed metaphorically to depict the decimation of relationships through separation. For example, I left Ireland over two years ago and even though this is a relatively short amount of time in one sense, the relationships with my friends, family and my surroundings will have drastically changed by the time I return. We see this with Oisin on his return to Eire – what he considers an insignificant amount of time does not reciprocate with those he has left behind. Oisin’s crisis is on a physical level while I feel that mine is emotional. Perhaps, what I fear is that I will ride back to Eire on my beautiful white horse to find that the relationships and connections I thought to be so strong prior to my departure have crumbled and disintegrated. It would not be the fault of my friends and family in Ireland nor myself, it may just be what happens. However, Oisin in Tir na nOg is mythological and my worries could be just as fictitious.

Emmett Walsh/@_diabhal666_

Success and failure

Very little from my school days is still etched in my memory other than the dread of attending each morning, the time Kav stole a pigs heart from the science lab and shoved it into John Burke’s school bag and the sheer width and impracticality of my vice principals hips. However, one thing that will remain forever is the powerful words of Elizabeth Bishop. I love poetry and writing, but as to be expected with the systematic repetition and meticulous dissection of something that is meant to be so fluid and free form, I began to resent it. Yet, Bishop’s poem ‘The Prodigal’ resonated with me. Though it’s said that this piece of poetry represents Bishop being consumed by her alcoholism, I took different meaning from her words. I’d always known I was not bound to my hometown for life and that more lay elsewhere, but this beautifully dark poem gave me a glimpse of a time when the grass is not always greener…

“The brown enormous odor he lived by was too close,
with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung”
(Bishop, 1951)

This barbaric and ghastly description of a man sentenced to reside with the animals as punishment for the poor decisions he’s made throughout his life showed me that abandoning everything you’ve known and been accustomed to is not always rewarded. Sometimes, it’s rewarded with misery. Misery that confines you in a pigsty with dung covered walls closing in on you and filling your lungs with the stench of regret. Powerful stuff especially for a spotty, hormone riddled teenage gremlin whose main existential crises at the time was trying to convince any girl in his year to let him “grab the tit”.

I believe I subconsciously and unknowingly toyed with Bishop’s words upon my arrival in Canada. I can’t fail…I mustn’t fail…or the shit-smeared across that god fore-saken pigsty will read my name. So then began my search for the perfect LinkedIn life which meant if I find a job with a title then everyone at home will know that I’m not a failure and I’m not dining with pigs.

A couple of weeks in, my desires came to fruition and I was offered a job that I had no right to accept, but did anyway – “Business Development and Community Relations Manager”. Did I know what it entailed? No. Did I know what it meant? No. Was I qualified in any way for this role? Ohhh fuck no. Did I take it anyway? You betchya. The matter of the fact is, if they offered me a position as “toe licking technician Grade IV” I would have gotten on my knees and spat out my tongue like a thirsty dog. I could only tread water for so long and after an extremely stressful four months, I was subsequently sacked. I could assign some blame to my former employers for my shortcomings, but all-in-all it was my naivety and pining for status that led me to be hoist by my own petard.

This was a very difficult time in my life. Being the first of my friends to step on the career ladder in Canada I was ashamed to have blown the opportunity. The feckless act of altering my employment status on LinkedIn to one of perceived value (Business Development Manager) to one of perceived inferior value (Construction labourer) gave me considerable emotional trauma. Alas, with most things – time heals all wounds. That labouring job gifted me with a stressless and superb work-life balance that consequentially resulted in the greatest summer of my life, so far. Moreover, my dismissal from my managerial role gave me something far superior to a fun summer, it gave me perspective. I agree with when he says…

“We might start by considering the all-too-black-and-white words themselves: success or failure. You are either a success, a comprehensive, singular, over all good thing, or its opposite, a failure, a comprehensive, singular, irredeemably bad thing. The words imply no alternative and no middle ground. However, in a world as complex as ours, such generalizations are a sign of naïve, unsophisticated or even malevolent analysis. These are vital degrees and gradations of value obliterated by this binary system, and the consequences are not good.” (Jordan Peterson, 2018, p.88)

In conjunction with what Peterson says, I too fell into the binary finger trap of success and failure. Being kicked off my smug pedestal was just the wake-up call I needed to realise that success is not measured in the length of your job title and failure is not measured in the dirt betwixt your fingernails. However, this is not the Big Lebowski and I can’t shrug off the anxieties I still have about this dilemma. I want to succeed. I don’t want to fail. Perhaps, the fear I have about returning home to Ireland is not that I won’t be perceived as the homecoming prosperous prodigal son, but that my attainable prosperity is still to be achieved and perhaps, I’m hindering my potential by leaving. Bishop closes her malevolent masterpiece with the lines…

“But it took him a long time finally to make up his mind to go home”

Perhaps, my mind is not made up just yet.

Emmett Walsh/@_diabhal666_

Irelands call

The anxieties and fears I feel about returning to my native land do not come from a place of resentment. I’ve missed Ireland since I departed its shores and if by some strange occurrence I never return, like a lover lost she would play on my mind for the rest of my days. It’s a country that is home to people who have given me so much. Home is where the heart is and mine remains nestled in the dew-soaked grass at the foot of the Sliebh Bloom mountains.

Yet, my mind is fickle and easily tormented by frivolous concerns. I believe that those I love and are waiting for me in Ireland love me still, and I believe that my potential is not confined within the borders of any one state, but as I stand on the precipice of returning home, that inner voice still asks: what if I’m wrong?


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