I spent the weekend with my friend (known here as Sister One) and her extended family in their homeplace, in the southeast of the country. Two counties away, but as far as Mars, at least, being on the Other Side of the Town/Country Divide. My friend's aunt is suffering from devastating effects of vascular dementia and all the (large, extended) family's hands are on deck. They have rallied in goodhumoured, stoical fashion and are dividing the caring time between them with scrupulous fairness.
It's funny, isn't it, how some time away can make you rethink yourself. It's as if your eyes need to see new things because the old ones are so familiar you don't even register them any more. These three nights away have been thought-provoking - being in that family has filled me with conflicted longings. What must it be to belong so wholly to a place? A much-loved farmhouse, worn with use, with fields around it, Jack Russells in front of the range, strings of familiar people stretching for miles around, going back for years and years. Bottomless cups of tea, brown soda bread, jokes, opinions, card-playing. Hens, donkeys.
It would indeed be churlish to complain about my ultra-privileged upbringing in a south Dublin suburb. We lived in an elegant, draughty Victorian house, with a big garden, and a view of the sea. My parents were kindly, reliable types with good senses of humour. But in Ireland, if you move more than 10 miles in your lifetime, you're a blow-in**. Eh, tick. If you can't trace your ancestry back to Brian Boru* himself, you're foreign. Tick. God forbid, if you belong to the minority religion, saints preserve us! Tick. Over time, of course, you get used to the non-belonging, you fancy yourself a cool, global soul, with an interesting slant on things. Someone who can fit in anywhere, with just a battered Samsonite suitcase and a laptop. Just sometimes, you wonder though. And I wonder if I can help my child (crossfingerstouchwoodmakehornsign) feel a sense of his or her own belonging in this world.
But, folks, enough with the existentials. The real question here is:
What are we to do with ourselves at all now the Olympics are over?
*Ancient Irish King geezer from like 1000 years ago.
**Unfamiliar person, foreigner, person settled during last millenium.