Growing up in Australia I had very little understanding of my cultural background.
With the knowledge that I had Irish ancestry, I told people I was Australian and one quarter Irish. It didn’t matter that this was wrong – or that my maths was appalling, and I was actually half Irish – because our cultural background was not something my family discussed. And I never gave much thought to it.
On my Mum’s side, my grandparents were born in Australia and my great grandparents were English, with a bit of French thrown in there somewhere. I never knew my Dad’s parents, only that they were Irish, emigrating from Ireland to England and then onto Australia where my Dad was born.
My Mum was raised Protestant and my Dad was raised Catholic; as a consequence I was raised religion-less, with my parents deciding that it was better to leave me with this choice (read: conflict).
So with no religious influence, the only culture I identified with was the Australian culture. As a family we engaged in aspects of the Aussie culture including barbeques, backyard cricket and barracking for our footy team, the mighty Hawks. But as a young Australia struggled to define herself, I struggled too.
The closest I came to any kind of Irish identity was an early high-school project on Ireland, and Cultural Day at work a few years ago. I cringe when I remember the token effort I made, contributing a bag of Tayto crisps I’d found in the specialty Irish shop downstairs. And on employment and ethnicity questionnaires, I’d always mark the box indicating that I was “White Irish”.
It became my identity by default, but one I had little understanding of – until I travelled to Ireland.
After tracing my ancestry and connecting with my family in Dublin, I realised that I not only wanted but I needed, the Irish influences that were missing from my childhood, to now be a part of my adult life. And this is what has shaped my time living abroad in the UK.
Not the lure of endless festivals or European travels, but the opportunity to explore Ireland and experience some of what I missed out on. To find out how my ancestors lived and learn who my family are. Who I am or might have been.
It’s now 18 months since I first travelled around Ireland and I’ve been back four times since. These trips have included family reunions and road trips with friends, trad music, set dancing, surfing and mountain hikes. On rural farm-stays I’ve harvested potatoes, milked goats, built stone walls and drank with locals.
My family has shown me around the neighbourhood where my grandparents lived and together we saw U2 in concert. But of all of my experiences, it’s the laughter, singing, and stories of my Irish family that I love. These stories provided a family history I knew nothing about and a context for my own story.
I’m now preparing to return home to Melbourne. And although I grew up as a child from an Australian family, I’ll take these experiences and stories to now live my life as an adult from a multicultural family.
About the authorrebecca