It goes back years, if not decades. I remember as a kid in the library under our apartment, how I traveled through Ireland by sitting down and watching pictures in big books on Ireland. I could not imagine that the Ireland in the travel guides was the same island of Ireland we used to see onat night, where people were killed in bomb attacks and house fires in the north, where people were executed for their religion, their beliefs.
Of course, the news reports were about Northern Ireland. Somehow I was attracted to the underdog, and in my eyes Ireland was that underdog. I’ve always had a thing for underdogs; often they turn out to be fantastic beings or things, or even better… Winners of long and hard-fought battles. In my eyes Ireland was the winner and nothing could deter me from thinking that way. I was too young to really understand what it was all about, and even now, after all my time living here, Irish history is an immensely complex thing.
High school came and went, and I was still quite interested in what was happening in Ireland. I read literature by brilliant Irish authors, read travel guides, dreamed I was sitting in pubs listening to traditional music, dreamed of green hills, the Old Library at Trinity College, of Connemara, of the Ring of Kerry, of everything Irish.
For years I did nothing about that dream. Oh, I dreamed, but I was afraid it being one big fail. I went to college and worked in a library where of course, my lunch breaks consisted of reading more books on Ireland. However, my heart would ache. I felt homesick and I felt like a stranger in my own country. I would see pictures, documentaries and videos and I would cry, because I was not in the country I wanted to be in.
I realised that dreams do have a habit of turning into reality once you put time, energy and a lot of self-belief in them. Even though it took me some years to make that giant leap, Ireland was my raison d’être and my future.
Sure, I already had been in Ireland at that stage, and loved it even more, so it added to the idea that things were starting to fall into place. When a few months later my library position could not be renewed, and my relationship had come to an end, I saw these as signs that it was time.
THAT time has arrived.
Boyfriend or no boyfriend, I was going to move because it was my dream, and if I believed in anything, it was to make your dreams come true because life was too short to do anything else.
The job hunt started and I was extremely lucky to be able to secure 3 job interviews before the big move. Five weeks after the breakup and after yet another week in Ireland, I was on my way tosecured a job on day two. “Can you start in 10 days from the day of your interview?” I was over the moon, I was pinching myself every 5 minutes to see if I was dreaming or not.
But it happened… The 10 days in Belgium were mad, packing, deciding what to take and what not, paperwork to get in order, contracts to be signed and again more packing. It was madness in a happy way as far as I was concerned, but needless to say, my mum & dad were sad to see me go. But as my dear, sweet mum always says: “I’d rather have you living happy in Ireland, than unhappy in Belgium”.
The day I moved to Ireland was on Halloween, and fireworks, happy people and a party atmosphere welcomed me with such open arms, I still remember that day as if it was yesterday.
“Yes, but why Ireland?!” I would be asked.
“Why not?!” was my way of thinking!
The music. The literature. Rugby. Nature. Humour. Art. Irish people. History!
I felt connected to everything Irish in ways I hardly felt connected to Belgian history, literature, or music. Belgium as a country seemed too narrow-minded for me, too serious, too noisy, too dirty, too flat (The Netherlands and Belgium are called the Low Lands for a reason), it was too much of everything I didn’t want, or need.
Nine years later, I’m still living here, in the country of saints and scholars, of Yeats and Joyce, of green, lush mountains and very friendly people. Please don’t get me wrong though, not everything is as it should be in Ireland. The Celtic Tiger has long lost its roar, there’s a lot of unemployment, backwards thinking and people who wished they were somewhere warmer and better. I’ve had boyfriends who didn’t turn out to be my prince charming. I’ve been diagnosed twice with an illness that would turn my life upside-down. I’ve had to quit my job to look after my health.
Of course, moving countries means that you miss out on family happenings, and I miss my family, but they know I am in Ireland for a reason. They have visited me on numerous occasions and they always come back, always willing to see and do more. Thank god for the internet, Skype and all the other social networks that keep us connected, otherwise my living abroad would be a totally different experience for all of us.
My mum’s words occasionally pop back up… Better to be happier in Ireland, than unhappy somewhere else. And I am happy here. I may have lost some of my abilities, but that does not make me completely disabled. I have lost some people whom I loved with all my heart, but they are with me, always. I have had to quit work, but I’ve regained some of the things I had lost by working too hard and living too little. I learned to love new things instead.
And at the end of the day, isn’t life supposed to be full of love and friendship, of being able to do what you can while also caring for other people? I do all that in Ireland, from Ireland and with all my heart, wherever my family and friends are, and however I may be.
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.