I would have known I am Irish had I been adopted at birth by a family with a different nationality. Sooner or later, I would have woken up to the fact by simply paying attention to the way I am wired. It’s the little things within us that tell us who we are; the things that we are born with, that nobody put there or tried to suggest. It’s a type of self-awareness that has to do with unusual alignment, like acknowledging a deep-seated talent and feeling inextricably compelled to develop it, with no guarantee that doing so will ever amount to a thing.
I cannot recall when it started, but its recurrence happened enough to make me wary of falling asleep when I was five, for at the threshold of night’s soft transition to otherness, the half-dream would come and affect me physically. It was the sensation of falling, yet I did not fall alone in my room from my five year old bed. I knew I was elsewhere, and I felt softness, and all around me the color of wheat, which I knew was somehow wrapped around me, leaving me in it but not of it, in a reality that felt so familiar to me as to relinquish all fear. And in my mind’s eye, unlimited vastness and wide-open space. Nightly, the vision would come, until I would wait for it without apprehension. But the moment I called it into anticipatory consciousness, the dream disappeared.
I’ve always felt a bone-deep affinity with Ireland. It goes beyond the image of self-identification, and is more an inner-knowing. Knowledge of what, I cannot tell you, except to say we all have our comfort-zone in the world. I suspected mine was in Ireland long before I ever went there. There was something about seeing pictures of the island that made my heart reach out nostalgically, and once I pressed pause on my American life and went there, I’d never felt more at home.
The first time I went to Ireland, I found an ease that quieted my restless heart. It was a presence of mind that kept me anchored in the moment; a perspective so glaringly clear as to have caused a permanent shift in my thinking to this very day. It has something to do with the priority of importance, and I found it by walking the Irish land. One foot after the other in a cadence through the bog in Connemara made my soul remember something during that first visit, and last October I had cause to return.
My cause to return to Ireland involved a book, a camera, and the largess of time to mix business with pleasure. The companionship of a childhood friend and a hired car was all I needed to accomplish my goal. We flew into Shannon and cut a swatch through the west of Ireland in ten action-packed days that included The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher, Galway City, Spiddal, Kylemore Abbey, Clifden and Adare. And all the while, ease, comfort, and a sense of belonging accompanied me.
I was standing in the middle of a field in Inverin when my friend found me. She’d come out of the shops to find me nowhere around. Irritated by my unpredictability and burdened with groceries, she picked the direction that made the least sense and went in search of me.
I don’t know how I found it, except to say that my feet took the lead. I’d climbed over a gray-stone wall and started walking towards the sea, and there in the distance, mounds of spun gold. They were evenly dispersed, these neatly packed, tall bundles of hay, and once there among them, I looked right and left then selected one and climbed to its top. It was there that time folded into itself, for it was there I remembered my recurring childhood dream. I had no way of knowing which had transpired first: if my dream had been prescient or something far more unusual, but once positioned atop, I felt something in my soul exhale.
This is how I would have known I am Irish without anybody telling me: these unusual occurrences that I take as a matter of course. They defy explanation and keep me attuned to the uncanny, and because I am Irish, I embrace them with willing ascent.
This appears on The Wild Geese.Irish