Because I could

~ Geri Dempsey

My wise and wonderful English teacher never failed to remind us that he was fed up with reading a bunch of teenagers dreamed up ideas of what New York, London and other far off cities were like. He told us, exasperated, to write about what you know. Having spent 4 years in London it still feels like a dream to me at times.

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Since moving over, I never thought I’d be challenged so much about my “Irishness”. It’s a strange question every way it’s posed to me. It’s never as light hearted as “Where in Ireland are you from?” it’s always more of an “Oh, are you from the North or South?”. The people who ask this have their own views and opinions on our history and are always ready to categorise you into one of their assumptions. With London being so multicultural you meet people from countries in far worse situations than our own, yet learning that so many had watched and studied the troubles in Ireland play out in the same disconnected way that we watch the terrors in others now, reminded me that no one is immune to being stereotyped. You’ll never truly know a country, it’s inhabitants or it’s issues unless you’ve actually live there through them. Having to defend and explain myself and my country is something that never gets less frustrating, but is something I’ve become used to. Being able to open peoples eyes about my home has made me more earnest to learn about theirs.

Often after I’ve enlightened someone as to how we’re not drunken savages being strangled by religion, they will ask “well if you love it so much then why did you leave?”. I always respond with “because I could.” I am grateful every day, to have had the privilege and support to travel and study abroad, something that many cannot do. It seemed to me that there was no study or career pathway that I wanted to pursue in Ireland at the time, and with London being a fashion hub I jumped ship. I was more than ready to break out of the Dublin bubble and have a fresh start. Finding out that the grass wasn’t necessarily greener, and that actually there was no grass just concrete, hit me quite hard. I wanted London to solve all my problems, when in reality I just relocated them.

I praised the tech gods that social media kept me in the loop when I first left, but that universal fear of missing out is really amplified through Facebook and Instagram. It’s bizarre because of course we all know that everyone has their own struggles and no one’s lives are what we see online, but it’s not that simple when there’s no one there to remind you of that at 4am on a Thursday. I genuinely feel that being so close to everything hindered me from truly settling in and feeling comfortable with my life in London for a long time. Others would remark on how lucky I was that I didn’t have the language barrier, that Dublin was only a short flight away, I was in the same time zone as my friends, what did I have to complain about? It’s all basically the UK isn’t it?

People are always going to emigrate. Of course the housing crisis, lack of jobs and the obscene cost of living are driving people away, but there are always many who leave purely to explore. The government always looks at emigration as a negative thing, rather than a learning opportunity. By actively looking at and examining why people leave, what they can do to change that and what they can do to get them back is what will make Ireland more visible on a global platform. Young people going abroad and bringing back new skills and experiences is only ever an asset. London has been life changing for me, so I would never want to encourage anyone to stay home and miss out, but we really need to give them something to come back to. If we don’t nurture and celebrate the creative industries in Ireland, we’ll soon be a desolate desert of digital marketers with nothing to market. Lack of support for creatives in Ireland is not just a “first world problem”, Roisin Agnew, writer and editor of Guts magazine, spoke about addressing Dubin’s problems on “How is it that no one in the council or government sees that by simply facilitating and allowing for creatives to exist (not even funding them) you will make Dublin a more vibrant place that people will want to visit and invest in? If money alone talks, then why aren’t our politicians hearing this?”

Emmet Kirwan, playwright and actor, compares Dublin to the current situation in Britain where few people from deprived economic backgrounds can consider a career in the arts, largely thanks to the burden of college fees, and “you have a situation where everyone in the arts will be from a private school and the arts will become monocultural.” I’ve experienced this monoculture first hand, having attended a university where the fees were so extortionate that the classrooms were filled with students who have no opinion and who don’t value their place there. For them college was just the next step, something to do after school. Not a first step in their career path or an opportunity that they’re lucky to even have. The importance of making higher education available to all is crucial not only for the students, but for the establishments themselves. A mixture of students from any and all backgrounds creates a vibrant atmosphere of creativity and critical thinking that at present is dulled and stagnant.

I’ve stood on the tube platforms facing ads promoting Dublin as a “breath of fresh air” when in reality it’s heading down a dangerous path that most certainly is not fresh. London is my home now, and sure it still bugs me when BBC crop the rest of Ireland out of the map when they show the weather, as if we’ve been sliced off and left to drift off into the Atlantic, but I’ve made my peace with it. London is a great place to be young in, the constant energy is addictive but I can’t imagine it staying that attractive or feasible for long. I’ve only grown to appreciate Dublin more since I’ve left. I used to think we could do with being a bit more like London, but now I realise we could do with learning from their mistakes.

Geri Dempsey