Have you ever left your country of birth to begin a new life abroad? Was it a journey of choice, or one of necessity? Can you imagine what it would be like if you had to leave your homeland at eighty four years of age?
As a young twenty two year old I left Ireland for Australia. One freezing cold January day, my now husband and I, kissed family goodbye at the airport and off we flew, for our chosen adventure in Perth. Leaving that day was so difficult. My father was just over one year dead, and my Mom and some of my family came to the airport to wave us off. I can remember struggling hard to hide my tears, and looking back I will be forever grateful to my Mom for being brave, and making our parting so much easier.
We were gone for about sixteen months and enjoyed ourselves enormously. Ours was a journey of choice. Many are not so lucky. For them the emigration is forced. Leaving all they love behind in order to look for work, and build a better life for themselves and for their family. These are the two types of emigration I have always known of. However recently I have learned of another.
In a few weeks time an elderly gentleman, whom my friend and I visit regularly, will leave Ireland for England. He will leave the home he shared with his wife who died a few years ago, and travel to live with his son. His house will be packed up, he will say goodbye to his friends and neighbours, to his wife’s burial place, to his much loved back garden, and to the country he loves dearly.
In the past few weeks we have had many a discussion with him about his leaving. He is naturally heartbroken and very reluctant to leave. We try to paint a nice picture for him, of what it will be like to live with his son, who clearly thinks the world of him. However last weekend as I arrived in England for a family wedding, my good pal was very much on my mind. As I sat on the train, watching the countryside pass by, I tried to imagine what he would think on that day, not too far in the future, when he sits on a train, on his way to his new life. Looking out the window I tried to tell myself that this countryside is so very like Ireland, all hills and fields. Yet as I gazed out my window I shook my head. For even though I saw those fields, and cows and farms, I could see no likeness to home. For in my heart these were English fields, and those farms had English houses on them. Certainly very pretty, but definitely not like home.
I can admit that it has greatly troubled me over the past few days. My good pal has lived in England in the past. He did so for forty years, having left Ireland at sixteen by sneaking onto a boat without paying. He lived a good life there, married and raised his son, but thirty years ago he returned ‘home’, for good. He remarked the other day, wistfully, in his soft Kerry accent , ‘By God, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have to leave this good country again’.
As the days and weeks tick by, ever nearer to us saying our own goodbyes, I am filled with regrets. Regrets we met this lovely gentleman so late, and huge regrets that we cannot take this awful burden from him. This week we will call to see him as always, and as we do so we will pass the old fashioned trunk he has taken down from the attic, that is sitting there alongside his other old suitcases. Each time I see them I imagine them full, as they were when he and his wife arrived ‘home’ thirty years ago. I also imagine him, someday soon, filling them with the life he has lived here. Closing them up, and taking them away. Away from his ‘home’, from the Ireland he holds dear.
I know in many ways he is a lucky man. His son and family eagerly await his arrival. They look forward to a family Christmas, their first in many years, and there are great grandchildren for him to meet. Yet I know despite all the love they have to give him, this man loves Ireland. He loves it with all his heart and soul. My friend and I know how hard it will be to say goodbye to him. We cannot begin to imagine how hard it will be for him to say goodbye. To leave home at eighty four years of age.
It is certainly a side of old age and emigration I never knew existed. I hope in my own future that I never have to experience anything like it. I wish my good pal an easy passage, from his life here in Ireland to his new life in England.
He will be greatly missed…. and not just by this country.