Today I wanted to share my memories of growing up in Ireland. The topic of gaining Irish citizenship is something that I have been discussing a lot recently. For those who don’t know, I was not born in Ireland but moved here when I was six years old and have been here ever since (21 years). I have tried to gain Irish citizenship as I see Ireland as my home and I identify as both Irish and Scottish, Scottish by birth but Irish by culture.
Unfortunately, I cannot gain citizenship without paying the huge fee of 1,200 euro, something I just cannot afford and feel is unfair to pay when I came to the country as a child. There are lots of people in Ireland in a similar situation and I am in the process of trying to fight the cost of citizenship for adults who came to the country as children and were raised here. At the end of the day, I feel that people like me prove they are Irish in their upbringing and their day to day lives and not by their ability to pay a a huge fee. To show this, I thought I would share my memories, the good and bad, of being raised in Ireland.
I would really appreciate it if you would sign my petition to support this cause and to join my facebook page and share your story if you are in, or know someone in, a similar situation.
My first memories of Ireland are looking out at the river Shannon from the house we were living in in Ballina, Co. Tipperary. A family friend took my mother, brother and I in when we fled from domestic abuse in Scotland and we lived with him while we got back on our feet. I loved being so close to the water and having ducks sometimes wondering around on the balcony.
I went to the local national school and remember being completely lost when, on my first day, a teacher supervising the school yard said I had to ask her ‘As Gaeilge’ to go the bathroom. I remember being confused by people calling trainers ‘runners’ and their school trousers ‘pants’ but I soon settled in an made friends. I was given the option to be exempt from Irish due to coming to the country late but I chose to give it ago and was soon telling my mother new words I had learned, the first of which being ‘bruscar bruscair’, a term my mother still remembers to this day. I remember having to write down in Irish what the weather was like everyday and on a Monday having to write down as Gaeilge, what we did at the weekend. I was never very good at Irish but I stuck with it and managed to get through secondary school without failing it. Now I enjoy sharing my knowledge of the language with my Spanish partner and am surprised by how much I still remember.
We moved into our first home, across the bridge to Killaloe in Co. Clare and I shared a room with my younger brother. My mother juggled looking after us with working as a housekeeper in a local hotel and doing odd jobs for friends she had made in the town. Looking back, I don’t think I appreciated how the community rallied around us and tried to help when we were struggling. My Mum would starve herself to make sure my brother and I ate but things started to improve and we moved into another place in the town in front of a stud farm. I loved going into the field and trying to make friends with the horses, my favourite being a small brown horse that I called ‘Gypsy’. I spent my days in that field with the horses or running across to my friend’s house across the road. I remember having to cross the bridge (with no footpath at the time) back to Ballina every day in wind, rain, or sunshine to go to school. If we were lucky and my Mum could afford it, we would get a 99 ice-cream cone from the local shop on our way home.
Eventually my Mum met my Godfather which led us to moving to Ennis in Co. Clare. My mother had some trouble getting us into a school as it was still a time in Ireland where divorced parents were looked down upon but, she eventually found us a place. I was nervous starting at a new school, one much bigger than my small school in Ballina, but I settled in as always and made some friends. I started there in second class so as you can imagine, Holy Communions took center stage. My mother decided to have myself and my brother baptized so we wouldn’t feel left out of the festivities and the school/town community. I remember picking out my communion dress from a local shop. I loved the lace and the fact it came with a little white jacket. My Mum went in every week to pay it off little by little until we could take it home. It still hangs in my wardrobe today, a reminder of how hard my Mum worked to get it for me. I was chosen to read one of the Prayers of the Faithful on the big day, something I was very proud of. I remember how packed the cathedral was but how lucky I felt that I got to sit near the front because I was doing a reading. It was a special day for me and family, we really felt part of the community and made a point of trying to go to mass every Sunday during my primary school years.
School had its ups and downs. I loved to learn and was always trying to get more of my teacher’s sparkly reward stickers for my homework journal. I enjoyed playing hurling every Wednesday with the school’s hurling coach and found myself being a decent goal keeper. I was part of the school choir and even got a solo during the choir’s performance at my brother’s communion, something my mother said made her cry. My brother was bullied a lot, being a bit more sensitive than the other boys, and I would run to his defense in the school yard. The principle at the time decided to put down the dreaded yellow lines separating the different years but this rarely stopped me. The bullying would go on for a few years but they eventually left him alone. He soon got into hurling and soccer as well as athletics and became a force to be reckoned with.
Weekends were spent playing outside with the neighbor’s kids or watching Socky and Dustin on the Den. I remember always rushing to watch the Simpsons at 6pm on RTE 2 and hoping it would be a double bill. Pokémon was a firm favourite in the mornings and the whole school became obsessed with collecting the stickers and cards. The next fad was always around the corner, marbles and Yu-gi-oh cards being two that stand out for me.
Before I knew it my confirmation came along and I was back at the front of the church, this time doing the full reading for the presentation of the gifts. I remember being nervous about the two paragraphs that were in Irish, mainly because my teacher wanted me to say the word ‘sliotar’ like ‘shliothar’ and I was struggling the pronunciation. In the end I managed to say it her way. I still have the photo of my family standing with the bishop outside the cathedral and I cringe at the hairstyle I had that I thought was “cool” at the time.
Next it was on to the big wide world of secondary school. I remember when we first moved to Ennis, driving passed St. Flannan’s and thinking it looked liked something from a story book. I pointed to it through the car window and said ‘I want to go there’. It was a boy’s school at the time but luckily they had started to let girls in a few years before I started secondary school so managed to fulfill that little dream of mine. I had kept my love of learning and loved my new school and teachers. Friends came and went as did boyfriends and trends but overall I loved school. I remember the giant, back-breaking school bags, making scoobies key chains and the constant announcements that yet another black sporthouse bag had gone missing. I remember the fear of getting a mark next to your name if you were bad, three marks meaning you got detention. I remember being given out to if you didn’t wear 100% black shoes, if your skirt was rolled up too short or if you wore hoodies in class. I also remember everyone waiting in line at the shop across the road for a chicken roll and eating them at the steps outside the school church.
Being a teenager meant begging to spend Saturday’s in town with my friends, meeting at O’Connell’s statue and usually loitering about at the giant rocks by Dunnes Stores. If it was raining we would all buy a bag of chips so we could sit in the local Supermac’s to keep dry. Saturday’s were taken over by work when I got a job at the local pub/restaurant near my house at 16. I’d buy phone credit and cinema tickets with the money for the weekends I did spend with my friends, or sneakily get pizza delivered for myself and my brother.
I remember around then I went through a tough time in my life and my mental health suffered because of it. I remember the therapist I was referred to saying I was ‘too young to be depressed’ and making me feel more worthless. I remember my first panic attack but not knowing there was a name for it. I remember thinking something was wrong with me and pushing the negativity deep down and replacing it with a suffering smile and the catchphrase ‘I’ll survive’.
Things slowly improved and the dreaded Leaving Cert eventually came by. I did mine the year English Paper 2 was accidentally given out instead of Paper 1. I remember my brother shouting upstairs where I was studying that my exam had been cancelled and thinking it was a joke. It turned out to be true so I had to go in on a Saturday to do the back-up Paper 2 exam. I was just happy that I had an extra half a day to study for maths!
I remember exam weather being in full force through the full two weeks of the exams and the sun beating in on my back as I tried to remember the midpoint formula. I remember the sheer terror of opening the envelope with my results and the joy of passing. I remember getting up at 6am to see my CAO offers and how hard it was to hold in the news while waiting for everyone to wake up. I was finally on my way to becoming a teacher, my career of choice, and I was excited to start this next chapter of my life.
I remember my first day of college, how grown up and independent I felt being out in the world on my own. Moving to Galway with no parents to watch me was freeing and intimidating all at the same time. I wasn’t much of a party goer, much preferring to play games or watch anime with the new friends I had made. I remember us starting our own Anime and Manga convention and feeling like we really achieved something. I remember helping to run the Presidential Award: GAISCE Society and being amazed at the dedication and work people put into achieving the award. I remember living off pasta and praying that my grant money would come in before rent was due and the lines to pick up the cheques when they finally came. I remember avoiding RAG week like the plague and the anger I felt when people said all students were to blame for the destruction that came with it.
It was in college that I first looked into applying for Irish citizenship but, seeing the fee alongside my empty student bank account, it felt hopeless. I remember thinking that there must be some mistake but discovering to to be correct. I remember thinking how unfair it was that I couldn’t be called Irish without paying for the privilege, despite living here almost my entire life.
Soon I had another disappointment that took over. I remember the heartbreak I felt after the government announcement that post-graduate maintenance grants would be taken away. My parents (my Mum and her partner) were both unable to work due to injury and my waitressing job had been lost due to the recession. My dreams, my plans for the future were taken away. All the work I had put into my education was now for nothing, my degree worthless without further study. I remember feeling lost and betrayed and then embarrassed when I had to join the dole queue. I remember how taken advantage of I felt when doing a JobsBridge, working full-time and not having the money to show for it. I wasn’t alone though and that brought a small amount of comfort. Most people my age were in the same position and at least I had a roof over my head.
I remember how bad my mental health was at this point, the depression and anxiety overwhelming me at times. I remember not wanting to ask for help, not wanting to be any more vulnerable than I already was. I remember not being able to go a day without a panic attack and breaking down in front of my doctor who had been waiting for this day to come. I remember the wonderful people at Jigsaw who helped me to keep going and who gave me direction again.
I remember being like everyone else and struggling step by step to get my life back together and how amazing it felt to sign off from the dole. I remember the little spark of hope returning and how tightly I held onto it.
I remember the pride I felt when Ireland, our little country, showed the world the meaning of acceptance, openness and kindness when the gay marriage referendum was passed. I remember crying for those affected by the Cervical Cancer scandal, sypathising with the families affected by the Buncrana pier tragedy, and feeling fear for those living in Dublin when the gang violence led to deaths. Most of all, I remember the 1916 commemoration and celebrating it in Dublin alongside my parent’s wedding. I remember shedding a tear at the speeches given at the Garden of Remembrance and the overwhelming emotion that went through me as I stood in the crowds watching the big screen of the parade through O’Connell Street. I’d never felt so proud of what Ireland fought for, it still brings a tear to my eye as I type this. You could feel the sense of loss and pride in the air and it is a feeling I will never forget.
Now I sit here, writing a brief outline of my memories of living in this beautiful country I call my home and I cant help but feel mixed emotions. I feel pride for my country, in all the difficulties it has faced and overcome and all it has achieved. I feel the happiness in remembering my childhood here and pride for surviving my own personal battles. However, I also feel rejected, hurt and outraged. I have been in Ireland through the good times and the bad. I have stuck by my country through the times it built me up and the times it knocked me down. I stayed though the recession though many others emigrated for better opportunities, I struggled with everyone when times were bad, celebrated our achievements and cried for our failures. Now you tell me that none of that counts, what really counts is a fee you say I should pay for a piece of paper that tells me something I already know: I am Irish.
In my Ireland it is about the community you are part of, your friends and family, your shared memories, your cultural identity, your spirit and your actions that make you Irish. It is also in the small things like debating over Barry’s vs Lyons tea, proudly wearing your Irish rugby jersey, complaining about the weather, saying hello and smiling to people as you pass them, having potatoes with almost every meal and panic buying bread and milk when a storm is due, all our little quirks that make us Irish.
My identity is not something that can be bought. It is a gift that was given to me by all of the people I have met and have influenced me throughout my life. In true Irish fashion, I will not back down, I will fight for what I believe in and I won’t let a government tell me who I am.