When exile begins

In the long process of writing and publishing Children of the Cromlech, I was forced to face up to the realities of my place in rural Ireland of the mid-century. I have commented on occasion that I was the lucky one, the one with the shoes, the cherished late arrival, the cuckoo in the nest. And so it was but now I have dug deep in retrieving memories and building a social scene from which I did not escape unscathed. The book is a realistic fiction based on distasteful facts. Two revelations – I was effectively exiled from Ireland at age 12 to a residential diocesan junior seminary not 12 miles away from  home. My only adult contacts were celibates, priests or nuns. Very quickly, I became a visitor and progressively a stranger in my own village and even to my family. I am not sure, even now, 70 years later, that I fully recovered. Too much was lost or hidden. The second and more important discovery is a question which remains – not why my characters and thousands of their peers escaped Ireland but why on earth did anyone stay.




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2 responses to “When exile begins

  1. Some great and very currently relevant themes being explored here John, thank you.

    The questions ‘why did you leave?’ and ‘why did you stay?’ are equally interesting ones for the 80’s wave, looking back. As no doubt they will be for the wave gathering momentum in the past three years. The answers for us in that decade are probably as varied as those of the generations before who made decisions about whether to stay or to go. I think the oppressive control of the State by a theocratic clique would feature less in the answers of those who left in the 80’s and hardly at all in the answers of those leaving today. But the grip on control and access by the well-set would still be the underlying theme. Maybe that is so in all countries and the only things that vary are the responses of those who are excluded. In Ireland with such a tradition of emigration, with networks and connections in so many places, with more knowledge of other parts of the world and perhaps less suspicion of or hostilitiy towards other peoples, it comes to the fore in one’s mind much faster than it might say in the minds of disenfranchised people in England or France, say.

    The answers provided by those who stay, in most generations, would be complex too. Certainly in the 80’s and I suspect long before, it could not be taken as acquiescence. For some, yes. But many who stayed, wanted the cliques and oppressive assumptions broken as much as those who left did I believe. I rather think that in many cases there is less thought about the big picture and the lifelong consequences at the time of deciding to go or to stay, than emerge when we wonder back. There’s a lot of happenstance and denial that we are making any permanent decision. And then things just happen that make it start to look like this is what we’re actually doing now.

    • Tomo In my experience and in that time the question was can I stay in Ballon and make a life there or shall I go? I remember three attempts to settle locally. I asked if I could take over the little place in Conaberry (Great-aunt Helen’s) and was perhaps wisely refused. I took a job selling encyclopedias door-to-door – didn’t last. My parents thought I might sell insurance locally but when they started calculating the support they might count on from visiting local councillors etc, I finally took flight. These were at different times. As you know I have wondered if I could fit back in but by then the game was in the second half and too late. If emigration was required, the world had appeal over say, Kerry, Connacht, even Dublin. I don’t think I ever moved without an attractive job to walk into so the networks were interesting but not important. I usually stayed clear of the “ghetto Irish” clubs etc and explored. Religious belief was a problem and a huge point of difference which I would rarely discuss because of a highly developed need to conform. A double life was required while “home”. The departure for New Zealand was triggered by the reactionary mind-set of the elite to ecumenicism and pan-Europe: I had a decent and responsible job at Brian S Ryans (in Dublin). So there were different compulsions back then as you say. The stayers were those who had a stake in their patch, economic or social or religious. Those who lacked that were free to go and, in my view, only a small minority made a successful return in those times. Different now, of course. Ireland has joined the world. Thank you for your thoughts John

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