I cried when I heard we were leaving, even though I had been suggesting we go for years.
Being English and a contrarian, I had always felt a little on the outside of Irish culture. If people in shops or taxi drivers took to me they would ask if I was Australian, American, Polish? Anything but the dreaded English.
Two years ago I was ambushed live on national radio when I was told I would be on a panel talking about St. Georges day with another English person and an Irish person, only to find myself fecked (thanks for that word – it will never leave my vocabulary) on air with the Trinity professor of Irish history. I was then forced to sit and listen to his idea of a brief run down of “the 8000 years of oppression”. Not being a history professor and not being prepared for this, I struggled to find the right tone – apologetic, but not responsible.
Ten years ago, when the Queen was giving out medals to the RUC for bravery, some of my office colleagues got quite cross with me. I understood their anger, which was verbally directed at me followed by them storming out of the office, but they hadn’t stopped to check whether I was a royalist, a republican or anything more deeply thought out.
My Irish ex-boyfriend, with whom I had a tempestuous relationship – to put it mildly – would often in a fit of rage tell me to go home to England.
It was often assumed, along the way of my 11 years in Ireland (from the age of 21-32), that sooner of later I would bugger off back to where I came from taking my plumy accent and ideas for women’s equality with me.
After this it will come as no surprise to anyone that I married an American.
Though we continued to live in Ireland we were both outsiders, him less of one than I.
I could go on with the woe is me stories but I loved many things about living in Ireland. The friends I made there are amazing. The schools my children went to were excellent. The lifestyle was easygoing and lots of fun. My neighbours were amazing people, who immigrated four months before we did, leaving our two sons hanging over the garden fence, looking in vain for their two children.
As soon as I had our children four and a half years ago, my homing instinct kicked in and I started on about moving back home, but my husband was having none of it. That was before the economy crashed and there became little option but London.
Only then did I realise how rooted I had become in Ireland, how much I loved the family home we had struggled to buy in 2007 and done up slowly since. How much I loved the fact that we knew all the neighbours and the kids could wander into their houses and how everyone helped each other out. The network of friends who did so much to help me and put up with me and socialised with me and read my children stories.
But I knew I was going home. I was going back to live 20 minutes from my parents and five minutes from my brother and sister-in-law. I was going back to the education system I went through, the working culture I understood and the pretty, affluent, towns and villages in which I grew up.
On my second day in Tunbridge Wells I walked into town to invest in some good shampoo. The day before some miserable old bag in Sainsbury, clearly a local, had spotted my three-year-old eating a bag of raisins and out the side of her mouth said “Hope you paid for that”.
The shampoo saleslady was much more pleasant. Over a cup of free tea (it had been -1 Degrees C outside all day long) we got chatting. I mentioned we had just moved from Dublin.
She lit up, “My whole family is from Cork”, she said. I lit up too – someone who understood.
And there it was. Finally, now I’ve left Ireland, I belong to the clan.
I’m not sure if it was because, in the end it was the Irish economy that forced me along with so many Irish people out, or whether it was that this girl, who had been brought from Macroom to Tunbridge Wells as a six month-old baby in the last bad Irish recession, also had a south-east English accent.
Whatever the reason, I suddenly felt at home for the first time since I moved home.