“Today is tough … but I also know that I have much to give”

“I believe, whether rightly or wrongly, that there’s a stereotypical definition of someone who suffers from depression … That stereotype is completely inaccurate.”

Somebody I know got in touch and asked me to share the below piece they wrote, with the hope that it might resonate with someone; that it might just help someone. It’s candid, and it’s courageous, and it can’t have been easy to write. I’d ask that if it strikes a chord with you, you might share it. And try to remember that no matter how low you feel, how despairing, that chances are, you too have more to give.

Thanks to the writer for entrusting me with his words, which I have reproduced in full below.

“I’ll miss Doggy when I die”….The first words I heard this morning when I walked into my daughter’s bedroom. She was in floods of tears. I comforted her as best I could telling her that she has many many years ahead of her and that Mammy and Daddy love her lots. I don’t know what upset her, possibly a bad dream, but it’s fair to say that 5 minutes later she was her usual chatty, good humoured self and eating her Weetabix. Doggy isn’t actually a dog, but a cuddly toy that could even be a lamb, and she’s had it since she was born, which, incidentally is 5 years ago next week.

The incident got me thinking as to how resilient children are, but also, how incidents in childhood, while quickly forgotten on the surface, can dwell in the subconscious and lead to issues in later years. I’m far from being a psychologist, but suffering in later life as a result of a childhood incident is certainly true of me. I have suffered from depression for 24 years, since I was 17 years old, and I can pinpoint exactly what lead to it, and like my daughter is now, I was 4 years old at the time, nearly 5, and for a short period of time was not in my parents direct care. The whats and whys will remain with me to the grave – neither of my parents are, or ever were aware of what happened. My Dad has passed away since, and were my mother to become aware of the details, I think it would kill her too.

I’ve kept my depression to myself for every single day of the last 24 years. My wife knows what happened when I was a child, she’s the only one I’ve ever opened up to about it, but I’ve never told her of the darkness that consumes me almost daily. Maybe that’s selfish, or maybe it’s selfless, I really don’t know, but it’s the way I deal with it. My close friends would say I’m moody, or “thick’ as they put it, but again, none of them would have any idea as to how difficult every day is. I don’t know how best to explain that – probably because I’m quite extroverted, and put myself in situations through music and drama, where I’m in the public eye. Because people see me as having the confidence to sing or act in front of hundreds, I couldn’t therefore possibly suffer from depression? I’ve recently completed a musical, in which, my role was that of a depressed, angry, loner, a role that I feel I did justice to. Why do I feel I did it justice? Because it was easy for me to portray the real me. It’s ironic, how many people, many strangers included, who have approached me on the street since to congratulate me, and asking how I was able to deliver such a difficult role……if only they knew just how easy it was for me on this occasion.

To watch a football match, musical, or a play, or even to watch a band play a gig on stage, is to see a snapshot in time of that player, actor or musician. The audience sees what the eye allows them. I believe, whether rightly or wrongly, that there’s a stereotypical definition of someone who suffers from depression, one of someone introverted, unable to engage, sitting in a dark room popping anti depressants, suicidal, and certainly not someone who would be able to take to a football pitch or a musical stage. That stereotype is completely inaccurate. My depression, and I can only speak for myself, manifests itself in a completely different manner.

Depression for me has meant that the primary issue I have difficulty controlling, is my anger. I’m highly prone to becoming angry at the drop of a hat – not in violent terms, but in terms of opposing someone or something, or becoming irritable over the most mundane of issues. This is where I feel sorry for my family, because as the closest people to me, they endure it most. I can only imagine that I’m difficult to be around at times, and damn close to impossible when I’m finding things most difficult. I’m also highly critical of myself, and have found myself being too hard on, and too critical of my daughter as a result. She’s only a child for God’s sake!! This is the one thing that I find upsets me most. I’ve also found myself to be prone to particular “triggers” that turn things dark for me very, very quickly. The reason for me taking to the keyboard today, (the first time I’ve done such a thing), is as a result of such an occasion yesterday which has left me feeling so worthless that I could crawl into a corner and die. My wife, who is normally my rock, was quite irritable herself yesterday. During a conversation between me, her, and her immediate family, I badgered her on a non issue, which led to her telling me to “Fuck Off”. This in itself I wouldn’t tend to take to heart, but it was the manner in which it was delivered, and the venom in her voice that knocked me completely, leading me to start questioning whether or not she has any respect for me any more, or whether indeed there may even be someone else, someone better in her life.

I’m probably in as lonely a place today as I’ve been in years. It’s just been my daughter and I at home today, which is normally a bit of a lift for me because we have such fun together, but today, I’ve found myself becoming the stereotype – wanting to sleep, I’ve barely eaten, and yes, if it wasn’t for my daughter, I don’t honestly know what scene my wife would return from work tonight to find.

I’ve lost 2 close friends to suicide in the last 3 years. There have been times when I’ve been at my lowest, that I’ve considered the same. Today is one of those days. However, I’ve seen first hand, the devastation of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, a wife and a girlfriend as a result of those 2 deaths, not to mention the questions of close friends that have been left unanswered. The main reason that even though it may cross my mind, I don’t think I’m capable of taking my own life, is the sound that I can hear coming from the next room, the sound of my daughter singing “Let It Go”, from “Frozen” for the 100th time today!!! It’s one of the few things today that has brought a smile to my face. She’s dancing round the room with glitter falling from her “Anna dress”, all over the floor. I’m glad she’s in there and I’m in here, so that she can’t see the only thing falling in this room – my tears on the keyboard.

Frozen Elsa costume

That aside, while I’m finding today to be difficult, I know that even though some days are tough, I also know that I have much to give. I have another musical in a few weeks to prepare for, I have a gig tonight, but most of all, I have a daughter that needs me and while there are times that she might wonder, she has a father who loves her more than she’ll ever know. I have a wife who, despite what happened yesterday, I would walk across hot coals for. The shortest day of the year is 5 days past, so things can only get brighter, plus the football starts in less than 2 weeks.

I’m not 100% sure what made me write this, but it’s been therapeutic of sorts. Having written it, I’m going to ask someone I trust to make it public so that maybe someone reading it in a similar situation will also feel that they have more to give.

Time to Talk

Today is National Time to Talk Day, and as such, it’s a good day to reflect on what it means to talk, but also what it means to listen. It’s important.

Time to talk

The national conversation around mental health often focuses on the message “Talk to someone”. But to talk, you need to have someone to listen, right?

It can be hard to know what to do if someone decides to talk to you about a mental health issue. They might just feel a bit down, or they might be more worried about themselves. And if they’ve chosen you to talk to, that responsibility can feel a bit daunting, or it may feel like too big a problem for you to take on.

That’s fine. We’re all human.

But if someone decides to talk to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve chosen you in the hope that you’ll solve all their problems. They may simply need to put how their feelings into words, or share them with someone. Sometimes doing that alone can make all the difference, so having someone to sit and listen and empathise with how they feel can make all the difference.

If you do feel you need some tips on how to say something back, the Green Ribbon website has some really useful advice. And it’s just normal, everyday stuff, not out of anyone’s reach.

This poem by Robert Frost sums it right up.

“When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.”

So today on Time To Talk day, in your conversations , make a point of really listening to what the other person has to say, without distractions. Give them your full attention – give them five minutes or half an hour of your time.  When you ask “how are you?” be aware that the answer may not be “I’m grand”.

And that’s grand.

My 10k adventure – and a thank you

Two months ago, I took a mad notion and decided I’d run 10km for charity.

Okay, I lie. I did no such thing. I decided I’d repeat the efforts of previous years, and sign up for the Women’s Mini-Marathon, do some token training – consisting of running 500m down the road and back while feeling faintly ridiculous – for the week preceding the big event. Then I’d turn up on the day, togged out like a pro. I’d jog a little and feel smugly fit and healthy before starting to wheeze, and would happily succumb to a(n albeit brisk) walking pace around the 2k mark. Then I’d finish triumphantly by jogging across the line at a respectable 1 hour 40 minutes and head to the pub to smugly celebrate my achievement.

This year was different, though.

I work for a large multinational corporation. I’ll openly admit that this is not necessarily the career path I’d have chosen as a young idealist, but it’s worked out well for me. While I work hard, and sometimes excessively long hours, I consider myself pretty lucky that I can work with some great clients who do fantastic work in the social arena. I’m glad that as part of my day job that I get to meet people who inspire me, and I’m grateful that I’m able to play a very small part in helping them achieve their aims more effectively and successfully.

One of the single biggest positives of my job is that as part of our corporate social responsibility programme, I with a small team of others have been able to work closely with the wonderful people at LauraLynn House, Ireland’s first – and only – Hospice for terminally ill children. Social responsibility programmes within big multinationals sometimes get a bad rap among cynics, who suggest they smell a little of tokenism and are simply part of an effort to generate positive PR, but I say, if I can contribute to a cause like LauraLynn House, even to a tiny extent, as part of my day job, then that’s good enough for me.

I’m sure by now that most of you have heard Jane and Brendan McKenna’s tragic story, but if not, you can read it here where you can also find out a little more about the work that the Children’s Sunshine Home and LauraLynn House do.

Three weeks ago, I was confronted with an image on the front of the Irish Independent that stopped me in my tracks. Tiny baby Leo McWade, aged 6 months old, gazing up at his dad with his beautiful big eyes, had been born with an inoperable heart defect. Told he would have very little time, his parents, Catherine and John had brought him home to care for him side by side with his twin sister Molly. I won’t deny that I cried when I read of his dad John’s feeling of panic when, on a particularly awful night, he phoned the hospital desperately looking for help and was told not to bring him in, that there was nothing they could do. I don’t have children, but I can only imagine the how horrifying that feeling of helplessness must have been.

John and Catherine subsequently moved into LauraLynn House with Leo and Molly, where Leo has received specialist care. The twins are now six months old. John, during his interview with the Irish Independent marvels at Leo’s resilience. “Now we have gotten to know this little boy. We can hold him and he looks up at me and he smiles”, he says. They can now tell Leo’s little sister that they did everything they could for him.

I hope John and Catherine don’t mind me telling their story here. But I don’t mind saying that nothing I have ever read has affected me so much. I hope Catherine and John get some more time with their little boy, and when the time comes, I hope sincerely that they’ll get the support they need at such a terrible time.

LauraLynn House is a wonderful facility. In their recently-opened new hospice building, they’ve thought of everything. It’s full of natural light. The bedrooms are decorated so as to make them feel as homely as possible. While every room houses essential medical equipment such as hoists, they are discreetly housed behind doors so as not to serve as a reminder that this is a medical environment. Large recliners beside beds enable tired parents to rest in comfort. Computer screens where staff can access medical records double as interactive screens for children to play games. There are guest rooms, with small kitchens where families can avail of privacy and retain some dignity at that most terrible of times. And in the most poignant of additions, there is a beautiful room called the Butterfly Suite, where children close to death are brought to die with their families around them. Importantly, LauraLynn House is not a sad place, nor is its sister organisation, the Children’s Sunshine Home. Though the facilities between provide care and respite for hundreds of children and parents, they are places of light and laughter.

LauraLynn House receives NO direct government funding. Not a cent. Apart from some funds diverted from the state contributions towards the Children’s Sunshine home, on whose grounds LauraLynn House sits, the hospice relies solely on the goodwill of fundraisers to pay its staff, and maintain its buildings and equipment. Running costs for the Hospice amount to over €2m annually. That’s a lot of money to raise.

When I read baby Leo’s story, I’d already started fundraising. I’d already raised quite a bit, having beaten my original target of €250, which I’d thought ambitious when I set it. But reading this made me more determined than ever. So I started to make a nuisance of myself, and it paid off. I’ve known from years of getting soaked outside churches while shaking buckets and selling raffle tickets at table quizzes, that we as a nation are an incredibly and unerringly generous people. I’ll always remember the old gentleman with no coat and a jumper that had seen better days who, outside a north Dublin church on a freezing cold, rainy night with a shy nod pressed a €50 note into my collection bucket. Once people are asked, they almost always respond with genuine enthusiasm for a good cause. But when times are that bit harder, and money is tight, I’d have understood if people were more reticent. I was prepared for that. But the opposite proved to be the case. In the end, I’ve managed to raise over €1,200 for LauraLynn House, and to say I’m delighted is an understatement.

One of the most amazing elements of my fundraising effort was the response I got from my efforts to promote the cause using social media. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m  an avid fan of twitter. I’ve been using it for about three years, and during that time (once the initial rite-of-passage novelty of celeb-following wore off), I’ve gathered over 1500 followers, and enjoyed thousands of fascinating, bite-size conversations with people from all walks of life on lots of interesting topics. (And politics.) I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting some people who I can now safely say will be friends for life. But despite my already strong conviction that the people you meet on twitter are among the best you’ll ever find, nothing could have prepared me for the response I got there to my fundraising efforts. In total, nearly half amount came from people who follow me on twitter. Astoundingly, a third came from people I’ve never even met. Some even passed my fundraising page on to friends and colleagues who in turn, also contributed.

Just… wow.

So when I togged out last Monday, I felt I owed it to those who donated to put in a bit of effort, over and above my usual laid-back ambling through the route. Work commitments meant training time was minimal, so I approached the day with some apprehension. (By minimal, I mean non-existent.) An old injury didn’t help, but along with a good (and annoyingly, infinitely fitter) friend of mine, I vowed I’d give it socks. (I even bought special socks for the occasion.) The first kilometre was a breeze. I was starting to wonder what the big deal about running was. By 2k, I was getting a wee bit sweaty. At 3k, I was starting to wheeze and feel a bit dizzy. By 5k, parts of me I didn’t know existed were starting to hurt, and I had to slow down for a bit. (By slow down, I mean stagger to the nearest water station and consider catching a bus.) Around the 7k mark I was definitely starting to hallucinate and reminiscent of the Lenten episode of Father Ted where everything appears to Ted to be a giant cigarette, I was having visions of tantalisingly cold pints of liquid. (Swithwicks.) The firemen cheering us on at Donnybrook at the 8km mark bolstered the spirits somewhat, despite being somewhat of a distraction. By 9k, every single part of me, including my eyeballs hurt (and didn’t stop hurting for four days). But I crossed the 10k mark having managed to run a good 90% of the route, and clocked a time of 1hr 18 minutes. Not exactly impressive, but bearing in mind that I absolutely detest running and avoid it at every opportunity, I was pretty damn chuffed with myself. I was so chuffed that I even contemplated running a victory lap around the Green.

So, this post is a thank you. To anyone who made a donation to the cause, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. I’m humbled by your generosity towards what is a wonderful cause. LauraLynn House value every cent of the money you donated. But in addition to that, the past few weeks served to remind me that despite all the negativity and cynicism that pervades the news, the papers and our everyday discourse, there is still an intrinsic goodness in us, and a desire within us to help out others less fortunate than ourselves. And it’s for that reminder that I’m even more grateful.

You can read John McWade’s interview with the Irish Independent here.

Dark Nights of the Soul

Ireland. The land of a thousand welcomes. Where the grass is green, the sun is rare, the Guinness is black (or ruby red, if you’re a purist) and the craic is mighty. Sure it’s a great little country altogether we have. Isn’t it?

Well, it is. For the most part. Unless you’re suffering from mental ill-health, that is.

Ireland, for all its warmth and revelry, its friendliness and humour, struggles to deal with mental health issues. As a population, we don’t really like the thought of anyone being “not right in the head”. We regard those who are “a bit touched” with pity, suspicion and even fear. We exude patronising pity for those who “suffer with their nerves”. We don’t talk about mental ill-health in the same way as we talk about physical ill-health, and if someone shows signs of mental “frailty” they are labelled, for life.

Come to think of it, talking about feelings on any level, apart from the most superficial, tends to be a challenge, particularly if you’re male. And especially not with other males.

Something I’ve noticed over the past couple of years in Ireland is the big increase in media coverage of mental health – and mental ill-health. Be it blogs, websites, articles, newspaper reports dealing with depression and other mental illnesses, this is an area which is generating more conversation than ever before – and not before time. Organisations like Spunout.ie, Headstrong, Grow, and Shine to name but a few of many, have been working to push these issues into the the public arena and popular discourse, and are slowly but surely building conversation, knocking down walls and very, very gradually reducing the stigma around mental illness. An initiative which has really pushed the boat out in terms of working to reduce stigma around mental health problems is
See Change, an alliance formed by over 40 voluntary organisations, state agencies, universities and youth groups including those named above. Their work has really impressed me so far, particularly their ‘Make a Ripple’ campaign, which comprised of stories by real people who have been affected by these issues, serves to remind us that mental ill-health is not solely the preserve of people we don’t know.

This isn’t a post about my own experiences of depression. I’m one of the luckier ones. In my lifetime, I’ve dealt with two pretty bad bouts of the blues, both severe enough to necessitate time off work and both harsh enough to make me wonder through the darkness of despair if life would ever look any brighter again and if I would be better off dead. I’m not going to write at any great length about how waking up in the morning during a period of depression is almost a disappointment… nor about the way it saps your energy and motivation, how broken sleeps provide no respite, contributing only to sustained exhaustion. I don’t intend to dwell on the guilt you feel for your lack of enthusiasm when nothing moves you. Neither will I write much about how, during a period of depression, you become your own worst enemy, locking yourself away, isolating yourself, distancing yourself from the people around you and focusing helplessly on the negative thoughts, feeding the selfishness of the illness until you are trapped in a spiral of misery so intense that all you want to do is go to sleep and not wake up.

No, for those who want to read about the experience of depression in depth, there are plenty of accounts out there, written by those souls courageous enough to share.Like I said, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve learned to deal with it. Every so often, another wave will appear, out of nowhere to wash me under, but as any bad surfer knows, sometimes it’s easier to duck beneath the wave and let it roll over you than standing up and trying to fight it. Acceptance has been half the battle, for me.

It does sometimes feel like a constant, exhausting fight, keeping the darkness at bay. A feeling I’m sure many a sufferer will identify with… but to live in fear is to let it dominate your life and I will absolutely not allow that to happen.

Sometimes though, it’s hard.

Everyone deals with things differently, and for me, I’ve always found the internet a ‘safe’ place to share. (That’s why I think Aware’s online support groups are a fantastic initiative.) As per the bio, I don’t much like talking about myself. I like asking questions more than I like giving answers, and I would struggle,  face-to-face to talk to many of my friend about this. Only a handful know that I ever suffered with depression, and it’s never really mentioned. I feel this is partially because, I think, having never suffered it themselves, they cannot empathise. Harsh? Yeah, probably.  And a bit unfair – given that we just don’t know what anyone else is dealing with in their own head.

But it’s no way meant to be derogatory. In my experience, there is a divide between “them” and “us”. Anyone who has ever suffered from depression will comprehend, and those with no experience simply cannot understand. They can sympathise, but can’t empathise with the despair. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good thing, for them. I find however, if I say I’m feeling down, it’s awkward. After a while when it doesn’t lift, people become impatient, or bored. I’m not saying it’s their fault. Naturally, it’s frustrating for them too when they’re getting nowhere. But I sense the impatience, and knowing I am the cause stresses me and upsets me even further. Therefore, I just find it’s easier not to talk about it.

And I couldn’t, in a million years, begin to imagine telling my current employers. I don’t think there is any place for mental “weakness” in business, and I have unfortunately seen very real evidence of this.  I have imagined the conversation in my head once or twice, for laughs. A couple of recent initiatives which have approached the issue from the ‘preventative’ side though, like stress management courses and an emphasis on fresh air and exercise, are positive and ones that I hope are not just tokenism, and will contribute in a small meaningful way to the mental health of all employees who participate, whether they realise it or not.

It’s my hope that all the work being done at the minute by the organisations above can somehow bridge the gap between ‘published’ experiences and real life, and that the conversation can become relevant to all of us. That’s where the real challenge lies. And this is a challenge that needs to be taken on – from the top down. Any politician who actively promotes the issue of mental health is worth their weight to this country in gold. It’s all very well to say that it’s good to talk about these things. We can say that til we’re blue in the face. We know it’s good to talk.

It’s translating the rhetoric into reality, and dealing with mental ill-health in a positive manner when it affects you, or me or someone close to us, and actually talking about it when it happens – that’s what will ultimately show that we are winning this battle, and my fear is that it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. These organisations need to position themselves in such a way that they are accessible to those who have very little strength to actively reach out. And let’s encourage those of us who are stronger to look out for others. I fear that the disconnect remains, but only by working together (and looking out for one another) can we erode this “strong, silent” mentality and help make those dark nights of the soul a little less lonely.

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(Image: Morguefile.com)
 

It’s the little things….

Today, we buried my cousin.

23 years old, and until Wednesday morning and the accident, full of life and humour. We’ll miss him more than I can write here.It’s been a rough few days, watching his family grieve. Grieving with them. What’s struck me however through the grief and the sadness and the exhaustion of the past three days is what a big impact the little gestures have.

Firstly, the amount of food that arrived to the house within hours. Trays and trays of sandwiches. Cake mountains. People wanting to do something… anything. Anything at all.

The younger group sitting up all night with him. To watch over him. The stories.

When they carried him out of the house for the last time, nearly thirty cousins, so rarely together, but at that moment together in raw grief, linked to each other for support formed an impromptu guard of honour to see him off. A protective semi-circle wrapping their arms around a broken family. Only wishing so badly we could do anything to take some pain away.

Thousands of people filed through the funeral home. When I say thousands, I mean we sat there for four and a half hours. Four and a half’s worth of people queuing up to offer their condolences. There were queues for miles. Today, those who sat in the front row have swollen, tender hands and wrists. (A tip. When offering condolences at a funeral, don’t squeeze too hard when shaking hands. Work on getting that balance between ‘wet fish’ and ‘vicegrips’ just right. It matters.)

The guard of honour of the local youth group, with which the family is so involved, from the end of the road to the church. They waited nearly two hours for him to arrive, then they walked beside the hearse with him to the church as the ball tolled. Hearing that bell toll…it’s such a lonely sound.

Today, strangers in the cars on the road pulled over as a mark of respect for the funeral. Those little things… Things that you’d never consider worth remarking on, took on a new significance. I never realised until now how touching it is to have a stranger ackowledge your grief. I know I’ll be doing that myself in future.. it may not help, it may make no difference. But it might.

It’s been a long three days. But there are far, far longer days ahead. Sleep well, Spud. We’ll miss you.

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(Photo: Morguefile.com)

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…….