Co. Fermanagh is my home, but in more of a factual sense than an emotive one.
I had a wonderful childhood, and an incredibly innocent and safe one. Fields make for a great playground and the freedom of being a child in the country, and the proximity to nature are some of my fondest memories.
But from about 14, Fermanagh felt too small. I was a culchie but didn’t fit in as one. It is easy to be weird in such a rural community and for example, I used to get odd looks for wearing purple skinny jeans and converse trainers. I was weird for preferring pop rock to country music, for liking books and politics, for having lots of views. I would (happily) never make a farmer’s wife.
I mainly wanted to go to university because it was really the only means I could imagine of getting out of Fermanagh. When I was a student at QUB, I barely went home, only every few months (most students from NI go home every weekend).
When homesick in England, it was Belfast that I missed so violently that I vomited one night. It was Belfast that made me physically ache. It was Belfast I cried for. It is I think perhaps, the only place in the world where I will ever feel complete belonging.
However, after a sudden and my first break-up, and being really poor and being mentally unwell throughout the 5 months since I had been last in Fermanagh, I found myself yearning to be there, for the first time in my life.
I arrived into Dublin, in late August 2016 and felt high with happiness, to simply be, in Ireland. Making my way off the boat, I accidentally knocked my bag into a woman in front of me. She merely laughed and started chatting. On the bus into the city centre, a man from Co. Clare struck up a conversation and in Busaras, I got talking to a drunken GAA fan from Co. Donegal and a woman from Newry, up for the day to visit an art exhibit. I had spoken to more strangers in a few hours than 11 months in England, and I felt vindicated; my decision to leave was not a wise career move, but I needed this, I needed to heal my heart and head, needed most of all, familiarity.
That night I collapsed into my childhood bed and felt grateful for the simple, slow-paced county I had so often chastised; I had wanted out because it was so predictable, but it felt comforting. This sense of certainty and sameness; stability.The next morning, I walked the farm, early. Smelled the soil, looked out on the fields where I had run through to midnight in summers long ago: it was the antidote I craved.
Really, though, it was my family I needed most of all. Living in England made me realise they matter more to me than I had thought. I am the odd one out, I am nothing much like anyone else. My sense of fitting in, comes from, standing out and it can often feel quite lonely, to in interests and views, find yourself so at odds but they love me greatly, even if they don’t often understand me.
There is one particular family member, and the newest, who has been especially important. My niece Skylah, will be a year old on Monday. When I moved home, I was for a period on the dole and the highlights of those days were seeing her. I had came home after she was born and had missed a lot of milestones and development in 5 months. One day especially stands out: singing Irish songs to her, and it was sunny, so I carried her outside the little cottage she lives in. She was so captivated by what adults see, as the ordinariness of the world. Choosing to focus on how the world seems to her taught me a lot of humility.
She has turned out to be a missing puzzle piece which we didn’t even realise we needed. I mean this in that our family unit feels so much more connected since her arrival. Before she entered the world, her dad and I would fight a lot. We would easily rile each other up and we didn’t like each other much, truth be told. But now we have someone, whom our love for, outweighs all our petty quarrels. We get along now, which hasn’t happened since early teenage years.
My parents too, seem so much happier. I see a side to them I’ve never been able to know; it is lovely to see how they are with Skylah, and think that once, you were the baby they doted on. The intensity of their love for her, makes you realise, how loved you were and are.
I and my little brother were very close as children. Waiting to hold him, is my first memory. He was my devoted sidekick for years, following after me. I think, having someone to look after, taught me a lot about love. I felt so protective of him, it seemed like a taster of motherhood.
Being an aunt is a whole other level of this. Maybe this isn’t nice to admit, but I used to sometimes wonder how you would feel if your child was better, brilliant or more beautiful than you, would you be jealous at all? Auntiehood has indicated that this probably wouldn’t be the case; I want all of these things to be true, because I want the very best for her. I want her to be better than us all. I suppose, that’s the nature of the new generation of a family; they carry the future, they carry the hope and we want, though knowing it to be impossible, for her to feel less hurts and we did.
She will make her own mistakes and have her own unique dreams. I look forward to knowing her, as she grows up. In my lowest moods, her existence gives me reason to smile.