Imagine trying to herd a gaggle of geese in to one place when they’re spread out across the planet and then, despite the jetlag, get them to behave well together for three days and three nights, under one roof.
Well I’m pleased to report that we pulled it off! We came together in Ireland last week to mark the 80th birthday of the main gander, our Dad. I flew on the direct flight from Perth to London and smugly assumed I’d be there before some of the other geese who were also flying in from foreign parts. But Murphy got the law onto me and a ten-hour delay due to fog had to be endured at Heathrow Airport before I was set free and allowed to fly to Ireland. As it happened, ‘gosling’ number-one caught up with me on her journey from Sydney via Abu Dhabi and we coincided on the same plane to our final destination. It had been close to three years since I had last been with this sibling.
Ease of travel
It’s funny how we take for granted the ease at which we get to fly around the globe these days. For the past few years, I have been lucky enough to travel the 15,000 kilometres from Perth to Cork and back again on a number of occasions without as much as a ten-minute delay. In fact, the flights tend to arrive earlier than later, and our needs are always well met along the way.
Words that comfort
It got me thinking about the millions of Irish people who have fled Ireland for one reason or another down through the centuries. The term Wild Geese is used in Irish history in reference to Irish soldiers who left the homeland to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The Wild Goose also happened to be the name of the on-board newspaper that was produced by the Fenians who were packed off on the Hougoumont convict ship bound for the port of Fremantle in Australia back in 1867. They were learned political prisoners and some of them put their literacy skills to good use during the 90-day passage across the oceans. Amongst the 62 Fenian prisoners on board was the poet, journalist and writer, John Boyle O’Reilly who later managed to escape to America from where he went on to orchestrate the famous Catalpa Rescue which saw six more Fenians escape to America. The writings of the Fenians whilst travelling on the high seas provided much-needed entertainment and encouragement for the other prisoners during the arduous journey. O’Reilly and his friends, John Casey and John Flood, produced seven editions of The Wild Goose newspaper in total. All seven issues survive and are bound into one book that can be found in the State Library of New South Wales.
Lest we forget
I often think about the million or so Irish natives who perished as a result of The Great Famine of the 1840s and the other million who were forced to flee their homes. Many of them never again to set foot on the emerald isle, never again to be in the company of their loved ones who they left behind.
Today the Irish continue to emigrate to places far and wide in search of adventure, improved living conditions, better wages, more appealing weather and learning opportunities. But ’tis very different times that we live in now. Back in the 1800s, there was no Skype or social media. A letter would have taken a few months to reach its destination, if it reached it all. Leaving our country today does not mean losing touch or never returning again. The advent of cheap travel and the internet have a put an end to those impediments. But for those returning, there are new challenges to deal with. There is a shortage of housing across the country now and people are still suffering the fallout from the global financial crisis that left many homeowners bankrupt when they could no longer make their mortgage repayments. According to Focus Ireland, there has been a 280% increase in the number of homeless families in Ireland in the past five years.
I met a lovely Irish lass the other day who had recently returned from Australia where she had spent ten years living in Brisbane. She told me that, because she had lived away from the country for more than two years, she has to build up her entitlement to services once again. She will not be entitled to free healthcare for at least twelve months even though she is an Irish citizen and before leaving the country had made significant contributions to the tax and insurance schemes. She told me that she felt as though the country was penalising her for having left in the first place despite the fact that she had returned with a wealth of work experience that would be of great benefit to her and others in the workplace. I got the impression that Ireland is not the welcoming place we often romanticize about when we are far away. I guess life has challenges whereever we settle.
The birthday boy
Getting back to my Dad, I know that he had a wonderful celebration and I also know that he feels blessed that we were all able to travel the distance that we did without much hardship. At 80 years of age, he can remember when transatlantic flights cost five times what they cost today and how prohibitive that cost was to most emigrants at the time. The alternative was to spend five or six weeks on a ship in order to return to the motherland. So, despite the challenges we face in the world today, there is much for us to be grateful for. I, for one, consider myself very lucky that I was able to be here in Ireland at this special time.
I’m going to wrap this up for today as I am on a bus travelling, from Galway to Cork after visiting my aunt and cousin, and it’s a little bit too rickety for writing. You have no idea how many times I have had to press the delete button. Enough is enough. But I made a promise to publish my blog today. Yes, it is still Monday here in Ireland and there is yet more celebrating to be done when I get to Cork as today is the actual birthday! Some of the geese had to head back to their far flung nests but I’m still here and enjoying the extra time to catch up with my loved ones and my friends. My next blog will be written on board the Dreamliner during my 18-hour return flight to Perth next week. Until then, adieu. Thanks for your time.