Hiraeth in Sydney

There is a beautiful Welsh word, hiraeth. It has no direct translation into the English language, but its sentiment is universal, a nostalgia or a longing for a homeland that you can never return to.

This word resonates as I type this in the upper floors of an anonymous Sydney skyscraper stuck on a Thursday night at work. Caught in the pragmatism of setting up a new life for yourself and all of the challenges that come with it, versus the need to involuntarily look back at your life in Ireland. You know that the nostalgia is sugar coated and false in many cases, but it doesn’t stop your mind playing back to a land you know is now difficult to return to.

My inbox is filled with messages from school friends in Belfast and university friends from Dublin that tell me I am living the dream. Their dream has a good climate and natural beauty, but it doesn’t include the reality of life so far away from home. I understand the messages, I used to send them to friends far from home in seemingly exotic locations as well.

The picture as emigrants that we paint on social media is often insincere. For every sun kissed picture of a beach that is posted, there are thousands that will never be seen. Nobody posts a picture alone at the office late at night, stranded and isolated with no support network around you. Unfortunately, and foolishly, that would be failing to live up to the dream that we have disingenuously portrayed to our friends and family.

There are thousands of Irish emigrants that arrive in their new countries and integrate into their new lives seamlessly. They have my admiration. My move to London five years ago felt similarly easy. Clapham felt like an extended halls of residence from Dublin. There were familiar faces on every street corner. Australia has been a completely different and in many ways a more difficult experience, but it has taught me more about myself than any other time in my life. I arrived alone, with very few friends, no job, no flat and no idea of what lay ahead.

Arriving on the other side of the world with a blank slate is an exciting prospect, but also a terrifying one. Every lunchtime in Sydney for the last two months I was served by a lady from Cork of my age. I enjoyed chatting to her. She has been blighted by homesickness, and no amount of blue skies and beaches will cure her wish to return home to a sodden sod. I did everything I could to persuade her to stay, but regardless of the many positive reasons to stay, her heart was providing the strongest case to leave. One year ago, I never could have empathised. Today, I wished her well before she left Sydney for good.

Unfortunately, I am stubborn by nature. I feel that regardless of how hard it can be so far from home, the opportunity to live abroad is one that rarely comes around again. I have played Australian Football, rugby and been constantly impressed by the warmth and kindness of the new Australian friends that I have made. I wake up feeling grateful for the winter sun on my face. I feel Ireland will always be there, and no matter how hard this experience abroad can be at times, I will be forever grateful for the experience to grow as a person. These opportunities come by all too rarely.


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