I wrote a song years ago, the first verse of which goes:
I have spent most of my life in a hot, dusty land
that cradled my destiny in the palm of its ancient hand
when the longing for home soaked all vigour from my soul
I’d take some pictures from the past to speed me over the foam.
As an Irish woman who has lived abroad for more than half a century, there is a lot I still miss about home.
Much has changed about the place in which I grew up so, I am happy that the memories I cling to are of unspoiled beauty, freedom, and safety.
Living in Nicosia in Cyprus in the heart of a dry, dusty, swiftly expanding town at the far end of Europe, I realise how valuable it was to be able to walk a short distance from home in Howth, Co Dublin, to the breathing pulse of the sea and watch its endless movement geared by seasonal moods.
Home for me is warmth, not just the fire in the fireplace, a warm cup of comfort, a good book or the companionship of the radio – it means mother. The tall, full-bodied warrior of a woman with her red-gold hair, artificially tinted in later life, a small concession to vanity. A woman who suffered much, but endured. A woman who loved music, reading and generously taking care of her family. Left without her provider who died at 41, she worked until she couldn’t.
Born in Tipperary, she grew in a farming community and the gift of growing things was in her. Our garden in Howth was my wonderland of flowers and scents of things both edible and decorative.
Summer meant long days of light in the sea. Friends and I spent hours in the water, taught ourselves to swim and realised our bodies were changing when the boys became a bit too attentive to how we looked in swimsuits.
The woods, sparse as they were, meant pure freedom. Rope swings hung from tall trees, we gloried in the arms of bluebells we gathered to bring home, watching out for snowdrops, primroses and cowslips, thrilled at their loveliness.
The harbour in Howth was also a place to explore with fishing boats nudging up against each other, big tyres protecting their weathered wood against the pier wall.
The nets men mended, the mental taste of rust from chains, the pungent smell of fish boxes marinated in salt and the scales of their painfully dying valuable cargo. Strong men, seagoing fearless spirits who braved all weathers and could read a sky and smell a wind with the exactitude of a well-equipped weather forecaster.
We didn’t have a name for the security of growing up among people we knew and trusted.
Buses and trains connected us to Dublin and the excitement of its large shops and the joy of its ice cream parlours, its cinemas and theatres and its dance halls.
In our late teens we would run down Talbot Street to catch the last train home, alive with the sense of our own immortality.
The island of Ireland’s Eye, rowing boats, its beach, the length and breadth to climb and enjoy. The deep mysterious waters behind it. The cry of seabirds as dawn broke. The pain of being so far away and missing it.
I was widowed young. Andreas volunteered for the army on the morning of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. He survived that, but died of a brain tumour four years later
I left Ireland for London in the early 1960s. I don’t recall exactly when as it was so long ago. I met my future husband, Andreas, at a dance club in Swiss Cottage in north London, having been brought there as a guest by a friend I had met up with on the (long) way back from Germany.
This may sound corny, but we looked at each other from opposite ends of the room and that was it. There was something so nice about his smile and his eyes. We came to Cyprus so he could do his army service and start work after he finished his studies.
I have now spent most of my life in Cyprus. I left London with Andreas to live in Cyprus in September, 1971.
I was widowed young. Andreas volunteered for the army on the morning of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. He survived that, but died of a brain tumour four years later. We had a son and a daughter.
He knew and loved Howth too.
I worked at all sorts to make ends meet after Andreas died. I was a dogsbody in a surgical clinic and a flower shop. I did secretarial work, editing for a company that did surveys for foreign companies.
I worked as a broadcaster at the state channel on both TV and radio. I did a bit of everything there, from news-reading to continuity.
I wrote scripts for private commercial companies making promotional videos. I did some DJ-ing and produced my own music programmes. I also did voiceovers for documentaries.
I taught English as a second language and have been writing all the time, doing features, articles and short stories for various publications.
I have also written features for the long-established English language paper here, the Cyprus Mail for which I write a column. I’m its most senior contributor by a few years at almost 80.
Colette Ni Reamonn Ioannidou lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. She left Ireland in the 1960s
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