18 January 2020

‘The endless task of
finding your true home
within your life’

Richard Ayoade asks whether home is where your ‘very great grandparents’ were born?

Patrick Comerford

I cannot remember when I created my Instagram profile. But I noticed on it this morning that I describe myself as ‘living in Askeaton but equally at home in Dublin, Wexford, Lichfield, Rethymnon or Cambridge.’

I have been in Askeaton almost three years now, having been introduced liturgically to the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes parish on Friday 20 January 2017, and certainly the rectory is beginning to feel like home.

But where are you from?

In the latest television advertisement in HSBC’s ‘Home to so much more’ campaign, the English comedian Richard Ayoade, who has a Nigerian father and a Norwegian mother, admits the question ‘Where you are from?’ is a tricky one.

Is it where you were born, where your parents were born, where your ‘very great grandparents’ were born? Is the answer on your passport, where you grew up, or could it be where you found yourself?

Perhaps the question is not so much where are you from, but where do you feel at home?

And, he concludes, ‘We are not an island. We are home to so much more.’

The question is socially important in a Britain that is turning in on itself. But these are questions I have often asked myself too.

Where do you think you are from?

How you answer these questions, actually, depends on where you are from.

I made my first home on my own on High Street in Wexford in the mid-1970s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In Ireland, when you ask someone where he is from, the answer can tell you who they want to win the next All-Ireland hurling or football final rather than where they were born.

When I posted about Drogheda this morning, recalling my schooldays and long Saturday afternoons, a Facebook friend replied, ‘I am fond of Drogheda too … Even though I am from Co Cavan, I was born in the hospital in Drogheda.’

So, being born somewhere does not mean you are from there, in Irish eyes.

Most of the Meath county team players were probably born in the Rotunda Hospital, or in a hospital in Drogheda, as were their supporters. For that matter, many south-side Dubliners born in the Rotunda would take offence if they were introduced as ‘north-siders.’

I was born in Dublin, on Rathfarnham Road, between a synagogue and a laundry. But I have a passing interest in hurling – my main sporting interests are rugby, cricket and having television seats for soccer matches – and I am disappointed whenever Wexford fails to reach the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals.

I spent part of my childhood on my grandmother’s farm in Co Waterford, and I have returned to Cappoquin and Lismore a few times in recent years. But instead, I still make a mental check on Sunday afternoons where the Wexford county sides are playing, rather than Waterford.

Is home where you went to school? I certainly have fond memories of Gormanston and Drogheda, and more recently I have enjoyed being in Cambridge year after year. But I can hardly identfy them as home.

My parents first lived in Bray after they got married, and over his lifetime my father lived in Rathmines, Portrane, Terenure, Harold’s Cross and Rathfarnham. But I never felt I was from any one of these places either. When I was still a young adult I went to live in Wexford and to work for the Wexford People. My father’s family was from Wexford, I felt at home instantly, and that feeling has never left me.

Is home might be where you found yourself … the first house where I stayed in Lichfield

The English population is socially more fluid when it comes to identifying with place. It sometimes causes a sense of dislocation. There is never the same pride in identity that is displayed in the support for country teams in GAA competitions in Ireland.

Ask someone in England where she is from, and she is probably going to name the town or city where she works, or the suburb where she has lived for the last seven or eight years.

You are not going to see English 20-somethings wearing the country colours of the Warwickshire or Surrey cricket teams in the way their Irish equivalents wear a Kilkenny or Tipperary hurling shirt, and people can wear Manchester United or Arsenal shirts without ever having travelled, in the first instance, further north than the Watford Gap, or in the second case, without ever crossing the river.

If, to answer one of Richard Ayoade’s determining questions, home might be where you found yourself, then I have also felt at home in Lichfield throughout my life, because of early experiences there when I was still in my teens.

In my mind’s eye, I am able walk around the streets of both Lichfield or Wexford in the dark and blindfolded and still know with confidence where I am and why I like that particular street or square.

I am in Greece twice a year, on average. Since the 1980s, I have spent time almost every year in Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete.

But ask a Greek where he is from, and he may tell you where his village is. Someone may have worked and lived in Rethymnon, for example, all his life, and his parents may still live there. But he is from, and his parents are from, a village where the family goes home for Easter, where the family has a summer home or a winter home, and where the family may share an interest in an olive grove.

Greek people go back to villages such as these to celebrate their name days, to be married or buried, perhaps even to vote.

Last week, I came across an excerpt from John O’Donohue’s book, Eternal Echoes on ‘Your True Home’:

‘Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you.

‘The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary.

‘When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition, but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality.

‘In a sense, this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself.

‘This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.’

‘This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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