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An English woman in Dublin

What is it like, being English in Ireland? I'm not sure. I was brought up the opposite, Irish in England. My father had moved to the UK after the war, eventually married my English mother and had three children. But in many ways he never left Roscommon. Our suburban home in Slough was unique on the road for the several greyhounds kennelled outside it.

What is it like, being English in Ireland? I'm not sure. I was brought up the opposite, Irish in England. My father had moved to the UK after the war, eventually married my English mother and had three children. But in many ways he never left Roscommon. Our suburban home in Slough was unique on the road for the several greyhounds kennelled outside it.

No trips to the Costa del Sol for us, we spent two weeks every summer in a cottage on the grounds of the convent in Loughglynn. (There wasn't much in the way of children's activities there apart from chasing midges, counting cows and praying. I'm not kidding). And I was the only girl in my class who knew the songs of Joseph Locke by heart.

Inevitably, my childhood made me aware of the inextricable links between Ireland and England: emigration, tourism, business and intermarriage. So many of us have, as Morrissey says, "Irish blood, English heart" and the book telling the true story of the two countries is no novel or history textbook, it's the telephone directory of any British city, in which dozens of people with my surname will appear.

HUMOUR

But I grew up, moved to London, and in every respect I was English. I sound English. I act English. I have a very English sense of humour. And then I met my husband-to-be, a wonderful Irish man, who was about to return to Dublin after several years away. (In relationship jargon this is known as "bad timing".) We got over that. We got married. We had a baby. We decided to bring that baby up in Ireland.

I did not think Dublin would be a strange place to me. I had visited my cousins over the years and, at first, in the exhaustion of new parenthood, I cherished the peace and beauty of my new surroundings. I read that nowhere in Ireland are you further than two hours from the sea.

And I discovered it first hand as I drove for hours with one small baby, and then another, strapped in the car seat behind me. I have slumped in snoring half sleep in numerous car parks along the coastline lulled to sleep by the waves.

I would love to tell you where some of the most picturesque and remote spots are, but I cannot. I found them by happy accidents that started by getting lost in Wicklow because I did not understand the road signs. (You can imagine this gave a whole new dimension to marital disputes about map reading in the days before Sat Nav).

For, of course, although one half of me was coming home, this was evident, let's say, on a more spiritual level. The other half, my English half, was in trouble. I was experiencing culture clash. I had blown in.

Let's start with local customs. In London, going "for a drink" means going for A drink. (In my case, usually a nice white wine spritzer). You meet at 6.30pm after work and you're on the tube, home by 7.15pm. In Ireland, going "for a drink" means you may not make it home before dawn.

Then there's language. My communication problems here are three-fold; firstly, as evidenced by the lost weekends in the Sally Gap, Irish itself.

Clearly, I don't know much and while I have attempted to learn the basics, mainly to check my sons' homework, they delight in my ignorance, collapsing into giggles when communicating information to each other or their father that they wish to keep secret from me. Fortunately, Irish translation cannot entirely obfuscate the phrase "sneaking off to do more Skylanders on the Playstation".

Secondly, there is the unique usage of, er, more colourful forms of English. For while the rat-a-tat of a series of F-words is, of course, not unheard of in the UK, over here it can reach symphonic levels, with curse words in a sentence going as fast as Michael Flatley's feet.

And, although I have tried, believe me, I have never got used to being told: "You're a daft bitch!" Or "Go away, you feckin' bo****!" Even though, I am assured, this is meant affectionately.

GIFTS

Thirdly, and perhaps most confusingly, I have lost count of the number of long conversations I have had where nothing at all is said. These normally arise when I need a straight answer to a question like, "When will this be done by?" Or, "How much will this cost?" Responses vary from "You know yourself," to "Say no more", perhaps "Ah, we won't rob you anyway", "You know the crack", "God is good" or perhaps, most intriguingly, "Between you and me and the wall". (Now I have learned to smile and listen as, because I am a writer by profession, these kind of linguistic gymnastics are like an education in dialogue). But guess what? In the end, being an Englishwoman in Dublin has given me more gifts than I can say.

When you come to a place as a sort of stranger you observe the world around you in a heightened way. I learned to do that here and when I decided to write my first novel, inspired by the time we moved from Dublin to New York for a while, I used those skills. Sin sceal eile.

An Englishwoman in New York, by Anne-Marie Casey, is published by John Murray books, priced €12.74


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