Several of my friends have lived in the same house for their entire lives. Some of their parents even grew up in said houses. My boyfriend’s home has been in the family for decades, and may someday fall into his hands. People have roots, somewhere to say that they were born and raised; next door to Granny and Grandad and down the road from an assortment of cousins. Then there is my family.
My father was born in Rosslare, Co. Wexford in 1960. His father was a Wexford native but his mother hailed from West Cork, and seemingly resented living in Wexford. At the age of nineteen, Dad upped sticks to work in Dublin (Dalkey, no less) before hopping on the ferry to England. Working his way up and around a hotel chain, he eventually met my mother, a seventeen year-old receptionist from Sheffield. Her parents and her parents’ parents were all from Sheffield too, with the notable exception of my grandmother’s father; an Irish philanderer no less.
Having won my mother over with his cheesy wit, my father married her and they landed back in Ireland to make a home. After a brief stay with my aunt in Dublin, they moved to Shannon, Co. Clare while my father worked in a hotel there. And in 1991, in a Limerick hospital, I made an appearance in the world.
Having left the county of my birth within two days, I spent the first eighteen months of my life in Shannon town. We lived in a housing estate up a big hill, where I once stamped my brand-new white shoes into a fresh pile of dog poop. On a nostalgic visit back to Shannon last year, I realised that I have very vague memories of that estate but my family insisted that I couldn’t have, seeing as I was barely two years old when we moved house. But I remember it, even if nobody believes me…
Then in 1993, my father accepted a job in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan and the three of us trudged north to a place where the rain seemed to be a chronic presence. When we lived in Cavan town, I gave my parents their first major panic attack when, weeks before Christmas, I pulled a ceramic plate on top of my head. My dad nearly crashed his car rushing to the hospital to find his two year old daughter sitting up in bed, with a bit of glue on her scalp and a smile on her face. Not a bother on me.
The next year, my squally baby sister was born and we moved to a quaint little cottage in Ballyconnell to be closer to Dad’s job. And by ‘quaint’ I mean inadequately insulated and single glazed. It was cold and I do remember having mice on a few occasions. But it was big and a bit higgledy-piggledy and just plain lovely, especially during the great heatwave of 1995.
I started school in Ballyconnell, in a tiny school where junior and senior infants shared a classroom and we all learned the alphabet through Letterland. Letterland was brilliant, especially for a bookworm-in-training like me. I had my first proper birthday party that year, inviting people from my class over to my house to play with things. Except I got a bit put out by everyone messing up my things and I think I was a bit relieved when everyone went home. I was having enough trouble keeping my infant sister away from my Barbies as it was.
In April 1997, my parents broke the news that we would be moving house again. I think they expected me to be a bit upset seeing as I’d just gotten settled into school in Cavan. But I didn’t really mind. There were always loads of worms in the yard in the Cavan school anyway. But on the last day of school before the Easter holidays our class had a party and the principal, Mr McGowan, got me to stand up and tell everyone where I was moving to. So I stood up and told everyone that I didn’t know where I was going to live, because I’d forgotten the name. Oh, well.
As it happened, Tullamore Co. Offaly was the next stop on the extended family road trip around Ireland. We moved down on a really sunny day and spent the evening sharing one solitary stool in the living room of our latest house because the moving trucks got lost somewhere along the way. A spiffing start.
The next day my five year-old self decided to ingratiate myself with the neighbours by strolling into their back garden and chatting away to them. That was how I met my oldest friend Róisín; for some reason she was unperturbed by my unsolicited presence in her garden and anyway, she needed a bridesmaid for her impending nuptials to Jack from across the road. She even wore my nightie for the wedding.
After two and a half years in that estate, for reasons of which I’m still unsure, my parents decided to move us to a little house right beside the hotel that my dad worked in. As in the house backed onto the hotel’s yard. I used to cycle around that yard until my parents decided I’d probably end up falling on broken glass or something. For the first time, I had my own room and naturally it was painted pink. it also had three outside walls, so my abiding memory of that house is being freezing cold. My sister had a Teletubby desk and stool; the height of sophistication for a four year old, I’ll have you know.
Then when I was ten, it turned out that my parents had been building a house elsewhere in Tullamore. A ‘for good’ house. For me, this meant months of being driven to a building site several nights a week after school to see the progress on, like, light fixtures or something. So by the time the house was actually ready to move into, the novelty had worn off significantly (especially seeing as it was finished four months behind schedule). We moved in three days before Christmas, and as such, I have strong associations between this house and that time of year. Which is quite lovely really.
So finally my family settled down and for the first time, my sister and I would hear the words ‘When you get this house…’. We made firm friends with the other kids in the estate and spent the evenings freewheeling hands-free down the hill on bikes and doing ‘slam dunks’ on trampolines. And yes, several injuries and the odd concussion were sustained. This house has seen First Holy Communions, Confirmations, Debs and more. The intention was for it to see graduations, weddings and grandchildren.
Then a little thing called the economic crisis happened and my parents decided to try to sell up and buy a smaller house mortgage-free somewhere else. ‘Somewhere else’ initially meant somewhere more rural in Offaly but gradually came to mean anywhere else in the country. We have no family ties in Offaly and my mother, being firmly convinced that Dad will drop dead of a heart attack sometime in the next ten years, would prefer to live out the rest of her life somewhere like Wexford, where there are more family ties and, well, quality of life. Offaly is something of a dump whereas Wexford is significantly more pleasant.
So once again, my parents have the wanderlust, although the fact that our house has been for sale for the last couple of years with little interest is kind of a stumbling block. Then last year, my father lost his job and we were in freefall for a while. Another link to this town was gone, and Mum started eyeing up houses in Wexford with increasing regularity. Dad got work in Limerick and then Cavan (can we see a pattern yet?) and is only home every couple of nights so there is even more of an impetus to leave Offaly.
So that’s my family’s journey around Ireland, until the present. But three years ago I first began venturing to the Big Smoke for college, and inhabited various dwellings along the way. First stop was Trinity College Halls, where I met various interesting characters and first learned the value of storage space and wireless internet. Then I discovered that I hated Trinity, so after Christmas I wandered home with my tail between my legs to do some soul-searching.
Next up the following September was UCD’s on-campus accommodation, where I lived with a rather odd Cavan girl, a Swiss girl cheating on her boyfriend with a French guy, and a Chilean girl with impossibly noisy friends and a habit of asking me to proof-read things just as I was on the way home for the weekend. I swore off campus after that year. So then I rented privately last year in a very luxurious apartment (with the best shower ever), but that experience was soured by some very dubious business with a vanishing deposit…(not my fault, I hasten to add).
My most recent renting experience has been a bit of nightmare because I have yet to find a home in Dublin, and college resumes in a couple of weeks. Crapsticks. For the first time in my life, my nomadic tendencies have been halted. Before this, there has always been somewhere else to go. Now, I’m looking at the unsavourable reality of a daily commute to college. Wah.
I guess that’s the sad part about not having roots anywhere, a home town. That feeling of having nowhere to go. Having to uproot yourself eventually, knowing that there is no point in getting comfortable where you are because, all of a sudden, you may have to leave again. My parents thought that Offaly would be where they would retire, but the reality of life in a recession has changed their long term plans. I guess if you don’t plan, you won’t end up disappointed? I’m not sure if that’s where I was going when I first started writing this but here we are.
But on the upside, I’ve met many people and had lots of nice experiences on my travels around Ireland. You really can get to know a country by living in its less stylish or urban places. I’ve learned how to pack my life into a car, and furniture varnish is one of my favourite smells, as I smelled it so much during my childhood. Even though my family seems to have no roots, maybe it’s us ourselves that are the roots. We could be living anywhere in the country (or the world) in five years’ time but somehow we might all manage to stay there for a little bit longer this time.