Reflecting on my roots

A student living away from home writes about how they’ve come to appreciate it all the more whilst studying in Dublin

Illustration: Isabelle Griffin

I can’t remember exactly how I felt that day last September when I left home for the big city. I seem to recall a few odd details: the train was virtually empty, I snacked on dark chocolate, and I read the first seventy pages of Gulliver’s Travels. Advanced reading, I know. I guess I started as I meant to *not* go on. For once, Irish Rail had their affairs in order and the train arrived on schedule. As I set foot in the “Big Shmoke”, I wasn’t immediately perceptible as a “culchie” or a “bogger”, or at least I don’t think I was.

I mean, I had a Leap Card and I navigated my way to Trinity Hall by the way of two buses without making a complete fool of myself. With the majority of my friends already settled into their new lives in college, my final few weeks were spent savouring my hometown and anticipating the year ahead. While I stood gazing out the window of the bus as it trudged along the Quays and then past College Green, I couldn’t see into the future beyond that first week of college to come.

“It was a country life, it was a precious existence.” I can’t deny that, at times, I miss my hometown of Westport. I wouldn’t say I live in the middle of nowhere, but there’s definitely a sense of isolation and detachment from the energy and buzz of everyday life. There’s my house. There’s a glistening blue lake behind it. There’s the imposing hulk of Croagh Patrick behind that. There’s a stretch of green nothingness surrounding all that. It’s no lie that life moves at a slower pace here, and I can’t argue with Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón when he says: “In small towns, news travels at the speed of boredom.”

The lack of public transport means that I rely on my parents for lifts to and from “town”, consisting of countless pubs, hotels, restaurants, and some frankly odd characters. Yet “these backwaters of existence sometimes breed, in their sluggish depths, strange acuities of emotion…” There are well-wishers in every shop, hairdresser, and bakery I pop into or pass by, those who wish me every success as they would their very own child.

I’ll never tire of the welcoming sight of the dotted islands of Clew Bay as I return home from another excursion, or the view of the crimson sun setting from my bedroom window, or the sound of the rain pounding down relentlessly on the slanted Velux windows as I lie tightly in bed. When I return home now, it’s only as a guest. While that may imply that I am entitled to special treatment, my mum quickly puts an end to any such “notions”. A country life. Though it often left me restless, often now I yearn for its self-effacing ease.

“In the beginning everything was alive. The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts…” Freshers’ Week took me through the unassuming front gate and into the obtrusive expanse of Front Square. I was drawn in like a gullible tourist, spellbound by the cobbled grounds, sweeping emerald lawns, and alluring old buildings. Walking the campus, I’m sometimes struck by the same sense of isolation I feel back home. The concept and reality of a centuries-old institution of learning tucked away in the centre of a sprawling, stentorian city elicits a kind of wonder in me, as well as appealing to my penchant for “exclusivity”.  

Outdoors, I’m anonymous; indoors, I’m anonymous too. Yet there’s no sense of sleepiness when surrounded by my peers. Left-wing or right-wing no longer necessarily mean I’m discussing the reason for Ronaldo’s recent goal drought. Whether it be politics, music, sport, social injustice, or what the best place is to get a coffee in Dublin, everyone’s got an opinion, and you’d better hope your own is well supported lest you want the vultures to pounce.

While I stood gazing out the window of the bus as it trundled along the Quays and then past College Green, I couldn’t see back into the past beyond the Leaving Cert. I’d recently endured. A quote from my notes on TS Eliot for English Paper II slithered into my mind. His biographer Peter Ackroyd said that Eliot, born in America, “was never completely at home anywhere and, even after he adopted British citizenship, he would sometimes sign himself ‘metoikos’, the Greek for ‘resident alien’”.

At times this year, I’ve definitely experienced a comparable sense of loss, of not belonging. I’m not South Dublin, I’m not North Dublin, but I’m really not a Mayo-man either. Yet these feelings have never been stifling or paralysing. Trinity has provided a wonderful landing strip to smooth the transition into the next phase of my life. “For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home.” At times, I am lost in Dublin, but Trinity feels like home.