An accidental Irishman

Come the first of September, my 5-year-old son will begin school here in Dublin. This will - once and for all - establish him as an Irish citizen in my mind.

He's perfectly fine with this, excited even. My wife has been busy with filling out all the necessary paperwork and tracking down suitable clothing. But I'm useless at such things.

So I'm left to do the dreamier stuff, like meditating on how the chance circumstances of a child's birth - where he's delivered into this world, and who his parents are - can determine the course of a young life before it has barely begun.

My relocation to Ireland in 1992 was a deliberate move, but also unexpected in its way. Back in the 1980s, I'd entertained romantic notions of moving here, especially after several tours of the island. I kept in contact with my grandmother's family in Cork, just in case.

In truth, though, it was all a youthful fancy. After college, I settled on Cape Cod. Real life intervened: a car, a job, a succession of roofs over my head. Then - within a period of 18 months - I was introduced to the woman who would become my wife, traded letters and visits with her across the water, moved to Dublin, and was married.

Never in that time did I give serious consideration to the implications of bringing up a child outside the land of my own birth. As my wife will confirm, I rarely plan that far ahead.

But now one of life's watershed moments draws near. As the first day of school approaches, I've come to grasp that Brian will be embarking on a journey that I myself have not undertaken: The system, the setting that he's about to enter is as new to me as it is to him. He'll be guiding me as much as I'll be guiding him.

The comforts of home, so to speak, are often intangible, and exist in the realm of the imagination. According to the Central Statistics Office in Dublin, since the "Celtic Tiger" economy hit stride in 1996, 45 percent of immigrants to Ireland have been the Irish themselves, returning from often successful lives abroad. Many of these are Irish couples who decided to come home from the States when their kids reached school age. I understand why.

Sure, math is math, English is English, wherever these subjects are taught in the world, and these returning Irish parents know that. In many cases, the resources and opportunities for their children would be better in the States. But what brings them back home, I'm convinced, is their unshakable belief that the US system is beyond their understanding (and thus, in their minds, inferior) because they haven't gone through it themselves. I find myself questioning the Irish educational system for precisely the same reason.

And, like expat parents everywhere, I know that there are other limits I'll encounter. Each of us possesses a profound geography of memory that only our homeplace can evoke, and it is dawning on me now, as my son becomes a boy (and then a man), that I'll never be able to pass a ball field with him in Dublin and say, "See that park, that's where your grandfather taught me how to hit a baseball." Or tell him, "Down along the river there, that's where your uncle and I used to spend hours fishing."

Both my wife and I are relative newcomers to this small village 10 miles south of Dublin that we now call home, so it'll be our son Brian who will put the more lasting family stamp on the place, and create the most memories here.

And that's where my own family history comes full circle, I suppose. My maternal grandparents left Cork around 1930 to settle in Cambridge, Mass., and now I've returned to Ireland to relive their experience in reverse - minus the hardship and deprivation and heartbreaking separation from family that they went through, needless to say. Like them, I've set up home and established a family in a land that will never have the same pull on my emotions and imagination as my birthplace will.

Curiously enough, though, raising a child abroad has made me keenly aware of my own deeply sown roots back home in Massachusetts - even more so than if I'd never moved away.

Which brings us back to Brian, and the opportunities that lie ahead of him, all because of a transatlantic connection between my wife and me. In time to come, maybe all my twittering on about family and remembrance will mean something to him.

Maybe not. But whatever the outcome of his life - should he end up back in Boston or decide to stay in Dublin - he'll always be able to say that, if nothing else, the journey was an interesting one.

Stephen Coronella is a freelance writer.

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