by Sunita Singh Hans, Storyteller for RU Student Life.
As I write this I’m listening to “For the First Time” by The Script, a song that encompasses the struggles of a young couple that emigrated from Ireland to New York City. Since leaving Ireland to move to Toronto, this song has become my anchor when I’m spiralling from nostalgia and missing everyone all at once. In the first 30 seconds of the music video, Ewe Hewson describes her homesickness in a postcard to her parents, her desperate yearning to be near the ones that know her best and how she’s “dying for a proper piece of brown bread.” I can never get through it without crying. The city of Londonderry has always been home to me but that doesn’t mean I always appreciated it the way that I do now. In fact, there have been times I have resented it, for the small-minded mentality that often comes with living in a small town, for the discouragement I was given in the face of trying to achieve my dreams and mostly for the prejudice that prevailed which many of my family members were subjected to. Sectarianism is such a huge part of Northern Ireland’s history and resulted in a period called “The Troubles” which lasted for over 30 years, but the sectarianism never really went away. Growing up there wasn’t always easy, and from a young age I got the notion in my head that I was never going to settle. I always knew I would leave and find a place where I could pursue my goals, and so I took advantage of my dual citizenship 19 years later and I moved to Canada.
I’ve lived in Toronto for three years now, and listening to the Canadian perception of Ireland and experiencing homesickness on a daily basis has made me develop such a greater appreciation for the place I call home. I never knew of the stereotypes that other parts of the world gave to us, or how much people loved the Irish accent until they would ask me to say certain phrases over and over again. I also didn’t realize just how rare the greenery in Ireland is until I repeatedly heard how beautiful people found it. I’ll go to the Irish Embassy a lot with my sister, just to hear Irish slang and have some proper bangers and mash. When I’m flying home, I always get so excited overhearing the Irish accent from other passengers for the first time in months. It’s like a jolt of electricity that goes right through me, reminding me I’m going to home to the place and the people that raised me and who know me best. I miss the coastal air, the cheery Irish small talk and the peaceful village I grew up in, waking up to see my dad feeding the birds in the garden and my mammy’s blue eyes. There are so many things I have taken for granted.
Over the past decade, I’ve seen so many changes occur in Londonderry and I’ve never felt so proud. In 2013 we were named the City of Culture, a designation given to a city in the United Kingdom for one year. During that year, I watched as a Peace Bridge was built across the river Foyle which divided the two parts of the city. I watched as flowers grew in the city centre in a place which is now known as the Peace Garden. I took part in a short story anthology called “Soundtracks of Our Lives” which celebrated young writers in the city. I represented my school at Barack Obama’s presidential speech in Belfast and listened to him talk about the importance of integrated education, and felt so much pride at having attended one of the only two integrated secondary schools in Northern Ireland. I watched progress happen in the midst of opportunities and it gave me a newfound sense of appreciation for the place where I grew up.
During Winter break I went back to my old secondary school and hugged the teachers that had been a huge part of my life for 7 years. I was alarmed at how many first years communicated with each other with smartphones, and felt a deeper appreciation that I experienced school at a time when Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist. Despite how much I used to anticipate the future, I found myself longing for the days when everything seemed so much simpler, when I would find so much solace in just sitting in the playground with my best friend and talking about all the places we would go to and the things we would achieve. And now we’re living those lives we wished for. As I walked around that day I talked to my favourite teacher about how proud I am to have grown up in Derry, and how much I miss the teachers that were my greatest life mentors and who are now some of my most cherished friends. He then pulled me over to a wall in the school lobby which documented the greatest achievements of students, and right in the middle was a large photo of me, taken during my final year of school before my entire world changed forever. In that moment, I realized the pride and respect my hometown had for me and how much I loved it back. It wasn’t a perfect place to grow up, but it’s a place I return to and acknowledge how much I’ve grown and feel so much pride in the progress it’s making. As I’ve grown and adapted to different places I’ve come to realize there’s only one place in this world where I feel most like myself. If anything, growing up in Ireland has taught me that despite our history, we can prevail and it’s important to return to those places we took for granted to realize just how far we’ve come. Just like the place that shaped me, I am messy and hopeful and filled with pride and progress, and my past does not define who I am.
This photo was taken from my bedroom, the day before I left Ireland to move to Canada. They say there’s gold at the end of the rainbow, and that expression is true. Because there’s no other place in the world that is filled with so much genuine laughter, kindness, and people that I love. There’s no other place that is so hard to leave, as I kiss my parents goodbye and feel the tears fall down my face. There’s no place that I’ll find a proper cup of English breakfast tea waiting for me after a long day, with a hug from my mammy that is the only known cure for heartbreak. There’s no other place where I can walk along the beach and feel the fresh coastal air make my anxiety fade away. There’s no other place where I am reminded of how far I’ve come in life, with such proud people cheering me every step of the way. And there’s no other place where I’ll ever get that feeling of seeing my parents through the bus window after 12 hours of travelling, their faces lit up with the happiest expressions I’ve ever seen as they greet me after months of being gone. It’s that feeling of realizing that I’m finally home.
Ireland may be green, but to me it’s pure gold.