I first moved away from Ireland in 2013. I went to Edinburgh to do a PhD in German History. When I left Ireland, I was sure that I would move back after three or four years; even the short flight from Edinburgh to Dublin seemed like quite a distance from family and friends. I was born in Dublin, went to school in Dublin and went to university in Dublin; Dublin was really all I had ever known. Despite this, Edinburgh was a brilliant experience. In 2015, I was lucky enough to receive funding for a research trip to Germany. I stayed in Berlin and Munich and once again, my eyes were opened to a different country and culture. After making a decision that even surprised me, in 2016 I moved to Munich where I have been ever since.
I do not think much can prepare you for a new life in a country where English is not the first language. I had participated in German classes before, but all of a sudden, the culture and the language seemed alien to me. I missed my family, I missed my friends whom I had grown up with, I missed my home which I fondly talked about with whoever was around to listen. But, time passes. I adjusted to this new life abroad as an Irish woman whose Irishness still defines almost every action I take. Whether it is using some words of Irish in an email to colleagues, chatting about the weather or the rugby, having long discussions with Germans about the Irish language, recommending Irish sights and towns to visit, or meeting fellow Irish people living in Munich and talking about home. All of us here are, in some way, defined by our Irishness which often appears even stronger when positioned in settings abroad.
Although I have become comfortable with being Irish but living away from home, missing Ireland never goes away. I am sure this is the case with many others abroad. The context of longing for Ireland informs our desire to keep up-to-date, to stay connected. We read Irish newspapers, listen to Irish radio, talk with our friends and family. Abroad, we answer questions about our history, our culture, our landscape, and our people. We work with international companies, research institutions, aid organisations. We found companies, create networks, foster business links. We educate, we contribute, we help, and we promote—we bring our professional and social skills with us, as well as our enduring national pride. We may not live there, but Ireland is still our country. We occupy a blurred dual space between being an immigrant in our adopted countries, trying to adapt to new languages, social circles and ways of living and working. Meanwhile, in Ireland, we are simultaneously the emigrants—those who have left. Although, maybe, we never wanted to go. This dual space is not easy as our sense of self is often torn between what we have built abroad and what we had or could have back home in Ireland.
Perhaps we will return to Ireland one day, perhaps we will not. However, this hybrid state of never fully feeling like we are here abroad, while never fully feeling like we are there in Ireland does not mean we are any less Irish, that we are any less interested in our country’s affairs or that a vote would hold any less significance for us. Like those living in Ireland, we want to be able to help shape, develop, and grow our country; not only for us, but for our families, friends, and fellow Irish citizens. Voting never is nor was solely for the individual’s wants and needs. Voting is for the community, for fellow countrywomen and countrymen. By having a vote, we can once again have a say in our country, in our home. We will no longer simply be “those who left.” We may still be here abroad, but our hopes, our plans, and our voices will also be there in Ireland, for Ireland, and for our fellow Irish citizens.
Rachel O’Sullivan is currently a postdoctoral researcher working on the history of Nazi Germany, Poland, the Holocaust, and colonialism.