Town and Country

As is usually the case, this post was written as part of The Great Cake Experiment. 15 other writers pit their wit and pens against each other, every week on a single topic. Why not have a read?
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When I was 16, the gap in my mind between town and country was at its greatest. Living in the country, in what felt like hundreds of miles from “civilisation” (in reality, just 4.1) with the only means of available transport the passenger seat of an unwilling parent, or the rickety wheels of an ancient pushbike, “town” was the holy grail.

Having a bunch of townie friends didn’t help. My best friend and I, living within a mile of each other in “the sticks”, envied them the freedom having a base in Town bestowed on them. They could come and go as they pleased – they even had their OWN KEYS. Our parents didn’t see the need for such liberties. There was no sneaking out late at night for us, and lack of gainful employment meant a heavy dependence on those parental taxi trips (and consequently, necessitated good behaviour, for fear of such favours being withdrawn), with curfews imposed. They even collected us in town at ungodly hours after nights out. (Sometimes we were grateful.)

We did, however have the freedom to hop on those  bikes, and cycle to our hearts content in the sun, hair messed in the wind, exploring the nooks and crannies of our country playground. In this, we felt we had a significant advantage over our town-based peers, even if they didn’t profess much jealousy. We country girls even formed our own gaelic football team. How we bonded – us against the townies. Mercifully, no official records exist of our first competitive scoreline, but it is seared on my mind forever. Our crushing defeats were soothed over pints of lemonade and Tayto, bringing giggling chaos to our one-room local and disturbing the tranquility of the regular clientele at the bar. Our team may have sucked, but our friendships endured.

Fast forward a couple of years, to university. Sharing a house with four townie schoolmates meant that country/town divisions were soon forgotten. Hailing from the same area bonded us in solidarity against the city folk (or the other country folk). The quiet peace of the countryside was scorned and forgotten, as partying became a priority, and city life pulsed in our veins. You could say, without being wide of the mark, that Galway city isn’t much more than a country town, but it was a change of pace, and we relished it. And so it went, for many a year.

Years later, I impulsively booked a flight, and departed to sunnier climes on a personal adventure. It was a trip that served to demonstrate to me how closely the Irish tend to stick together. Country, town, county and provincial divisions are forgotten, as Irish abroad unite simply in their shared nationality. It occurred to me that we as a nation rely heavily on solidarity. We feel a need to have something in common with our companions, to possess and generate shared memories and experiences, and all too often, this connection stems from our shared Irish roots and shared sense of humour.  We adore the ‘6 degrees of separation’ phenomenon, and the fact that no matter where you roam, you will always meet an Irish person who knows another Irish person that you yourself know.

Sometimes, on my solo expedition, it puzzled me. All those miles away from home, but doing very little differently than they would back at base – albeit while adding freckles to the complexion. I felt my own experience was enriched by spending time in the company of other nationalities and I felt the groups of Irish hanging out in PJs and the like in Sydney every Saturday night, drunkenly singing Olé Olé as the nostalgia-laced dizzyhighlights of Italia ’90 were replayed on giant screens, missed out just a little. But each to their own.

Now, years later as I languish in corporate limbo in the capital, I find myself looking for an escape route. The city streets which once held so much intrigue, and pulsed with energy now tire me a little. Not physically, but mentally. My visits home, and my solitary walks by the wild Atlantic  have become more frequent. I relish the relaxed pace, the peace of the wide open spaces, the warmth of knowing your neighbours and find I need to tear myself away when the weekends draw to a close. I’m not unhappy where I am, though. I’ve carved out a wonderful “Dublin family” for myself here, and I’ve realised that it consists mostly of “country” folk.  The irony. I find, when I socialise, that I tend towards places that remind me of home, and where I know I’ll meet people I know and understand.

It always amuses me that even within such a small country, there are such social factions. There’s a distinct vibe within my little group, and it smells of the Atlantic. Without even meaning to, I’ve sought out that sense of solidarity myself. 15 years later, and it seems I’ve come full circle. You can take the girl out of the country, but…….

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