Festivals, barbeques, get-togethers, harvest fairs, it’s what August in Ireland is all about. Having emigrated to the Middle East over three years ago, it is great to be home for the month of August, firstly, to escape the intense temperature and barren landscape of Abu Dhabi and secondly to enjoy a taste of the Irish culture that we miss so much.
So when I came home and turned on the radio to hear about the year-long countrywide get-togethers planned across Ireland, I knew it was right up my street. I logged on to the website and read about how it was a celebration of all things Irish, a chance for people to trace their roots, meet those who had emigrated, meet those who had moved within Ireland, the whole concept was called The Gathering. Gatherings were happening all the time, indoor , outdoor, morning, evening, young, old, country, city, just about everywhere around Ireland.
When I found out about a school reunion gathering at the national school I attended, I couldn’t wait. The school was small and I had lost touch with over ninety per cent of my classmates, this was the ideal opportunity to catch up. Not a particularly affluent area but nonetheless a pleasant place to reside I imagined my old classmates, still bumbling around the town at home, probably these days feeling the pinch of the current economic situation in Ireland. Far from wanting to arrive at the party and gloat about my travels and the trials of being a cosmopolitan expat wife, I planned to tread softly and listen to their stories about small town life with interest.
Arriving fashionably late to the distinct absence of a fanfare I made my way to the refreshments bar hoping for a cool glass of Pinot Grigio or perhaps a long island iced tea, however the Burco boiler stood proud midst the rows and rows of mismatched mugs. The plate of Mikado biscuits was a far cry from the cheese selection I would have liked. Taking one glance around the room, I initially didn’t remember anyone, however after more careful consideration the faces that now had twenty five years of life experience behind them, since we parted company in sixth class, became recognizable.
As conversations started I found that I wasn’t the only one who had taken to foreign lands, Toronto, San Francisco, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, Nigeria, Sydney, Perth and Carlow were the among the destinations of my former classmates. With over 50% of the 1988 6th Class now living abroad, it seems that “The Gathering” is a direct result of the “The Scattering”. Those that stayed at home didn’t quiet look the part of the Neanderthal cave people that I’d expected. Having imagined seeing my former classmates that stayed put, struggling with pushchairs, shopping bags and crow’s feet I was surprised to find that they weren’t as bedraggled as the media had me believe.
Expecting to see fingers worn from coupon cutting and hand-washing down by the river, it was not the case. Fake eyelashes (top only) nails and tan seemed to be the most common denominators and a designer handbag a close second. My thunder was well and truly stolen when it was clear that life did still exist in Ireland and incidentally a busier and perhaps more fulfilling life than that of an expat wife. My anecdotes of Dubai paled into insignificance when the group nodded in agreement, as literally every second person has either been or else knows someone who lives there.
However being an expat wife has its advantages and becoming adept at carrying out lengthy, pleasant and animated conversations completely devoid of any depth is one of them and as conversations happened quickly to cover the happenings of the past twenty five years, there was one common phrase, the new Irish adage, “There’s nothing here”, as all the expats justified the reasons for their exit and the patriots concurred, “you’re right, there’s nothing here, you’re better off gone”. Strangely, despite the general agreement about the state of the nation, every emigrant there mentioned their desire to come home and most patrons expressed their reluctance to leave.