I'm too much of a crock to ditch the NHS and gamble on Ireland's broken health system
Like so many Irish exiles, I always thought I would eventually return to live in Ireland once I was free to do so. My English husband was severely disabled for a long time, and, I thought, if he pre-deceased me, I would probably go back to live in Dublin. The latest statistics show that many of the Irish diaspora are indeed doing that. Conor Cruise O'Brien always spoke about the "pull of the roots", and that pull never goes away. Thankfully.
Well, my husband indeed departed this world last year. They say you should never make any major move for a year after a death because that's the time it takes to form a perspective: the traditional period of mourning was a year and a day, and like many traditions, it was based on common sense. A year and a day passed and I made no plans to re-establish residence in Ireland. I'm in Ireland frequently - at least once a month - but that's not quite the same thing as being a permanent resident. So what's stopping me?
A primary concern, surely, is health. I know there are many problems with the health services in Ireland (the National Health Service in Britain isn't problem-free either, because the demands are so enormous) and I'd be worried about accessing care via the HSE. It mightn't, either, be too patriotic to become a drain on the Irish health services in old age, and to be frank, I'm a bit of a crock.
Maeve Binchy used to joke about "the organ recital" which occurs when oldsters meet up - the litany of things that are going wrong with the human body - and I have a tidy list to recite. At the last count I noted that I am afflicted with bronchiectasis, arthritis, blepharitis, psoriasis, and hearing impairment.
I am joined at the hip (the artificial hip, that is) to my lovely English GP (he's half-Irish too, as it happens), and dedicated to the ophthalmologist, the audiologist and the good counsel of the Brompton Chest Hospital, which has been investigating dodgy lungs and wheezy bronchial tubes since the Crimean War.
All these services are free, to me, at the point of delivery, and I'm on my creakily bended knees in thankfulness for them. The dentist is a consideration too, although dental care is seldom available, any more, on the NHS, so the dentist is paid for directly: but I'm used to him now and wouldn't particularly wish to change.
And then there are the grandchildren in North London, whom I look after, ideally, one day a week. Their childhood is passing so quickly! One minute, there's a gorgeous little baby cradled in your arms, and the next minute there's a poised young lady explaining that "no, Grandma, I'm not a vegetarian - I'm a pescatarian". (She eats fish.) In no time at all, they'll be off to university.
Being a grandmother has become one of the most privileged roles of my life, and I want to be available for the three grand-kids for as long as possible.
It would be somewhat more complicated carrying out regular babysitting from Dublin.
I would guess that these are the two main issues that might restrain older Irish people from returning home as full-time residents: health (and perhaps financial links), and family ties in the emigrant country.
Younger Irish people have different priorities, and understandably, they often want to return to Ireland simply because of the quality of life - and education - both of which seem to me to be very good in Ireland.
Ireland is a country where human relationships matter, and that remains, to me, one of the reasons why it's one of the best societies in the world. And it's surely one of the best places in the world in which to grow up, and to raise children.
Obviously, every society has its flaws and every society needs critical examination and self-examination, but I dislike a constant stream of running down the country. I dislike the misery-boots commentators who haven't a good word to say about Irish politics and culture, and who see the country that our parents sought to construct unremittingly in a dark and negative perspective.
From the establishment of the State in 1923, my parents' generation did the best they could, in the light of their own values, to construct a state that measured up to practical ideals.
My father had lived abroad for more than 25 years, but like many Irishmen and women, felt the "pull of the roots" when the fledgling state was set up, and returned to his native Dublin.
Ireland was a poor country which had had the courage to break away from the world's greatest empire at the time, and life was bound to be simple and modest, but they made the sacrifices for the sake of the country.
Now, to read some commentators on the social history of Ireland during the 20th century, you'd think it was nothing but cruel Christian brothers and repressive bigotry.
Perhaps I retain some of the exile's rose-tinted spectacles in the way I see Ireland, and perhaps I wouldn't want to part with my illusions.
However, fortunately, thanks to the delights of London City airport - so compact and efficient - I'm able be on that Dublin-bound flight pretty frequently, and for an old crock, I'm doing okay. Those of us with one foot in the grave still like to have one planted in the soil of the emerald isle.