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‘I learned to hide my Irish accent, or at least to feel deeply ashamed of it’

He lives in west London now, but Ross Hoey says that whatever you think about the union, England will always feel like a different country

The first person I met when I moved into my halls in Bristol was an English fellah who told me two things when he heard my accent. The first was he was “more Irish” than me because his grandmother was from Cork – pronounced without the “r”. The second was that “my people” killed his grandfather, who was in the British army.

I said nothing, feeling alien to myself with this move to a different country. No matter what you think about the union, over here will always feel like a different country. I smiled off these remarks and allowed the conversation to pass over the rough snags of xenophobia.

Later, feeling less at sea, I wished to return to that moment so I could have thumped him. Now, with more hindsight, and truthfully, more healing over what I did not realise I needed to heal from, I have less of a desire to return to that moment for retribution.

Instead, when I think of it, I would like to have been able to tell him that I am as Irish as I am and that needs no comparison. Also, that I have no relatives that have been in the IRA, though my grandfather was a proud member of the Irish Reserve Army.


I learned to hide my accent, or at least to feel deeply ashamed of it. Three years of friendship with a girl seemed null when, upon seeing me in a play in our final year, the only comment she made was “it’s funny how you say cow”.

From there I fled to Wales. After that, London. Then the US. Where? All over. After leaving home at 18, it is only now, over 10 years later, that I have come to terms with a feeling that has been present for as long as I have.

Being Irish, we have many ghosts behind us, propelled by our inability to speak of them. We pass trauma on endlessly. There was a famine that continues in our dearth of communication. An Gorta Mór has become An Brón Mór, The Great Sorrow, which plagues us as the hunger did, as the bombs and bullets did in our more recent history.

Sinéad O’Connor rapped, “look at all our old men in the pubs, look at all our young people on drugs”, and Lyra McKee told us of the suicide epidemic affecting mostly young men. We are abandoned within ourselves, we are like the medieval mad king, astray, doing what we can to get away from the turmoil inside.

I left because I could not stay, not in the North which has never been at peace. I was born in the year of a failed ceasefire and the irony of that is not lost on me. I was met with xenophobia, which only helped to push me further away from myself, and to let me think that I could deny home and that would save me.

There is no denying ourselves. I learned this through grief, losing my father when I was in my early twenties. That opened a gap in me which I thought could be filled, but which I know now cannot. He once met Seamus Heaney and the following line could not be more poignant to me: “It’s heft and hush became a bright nowhere.”

I have not done the healing, but I can now see what it is – a very alive trauma that tears at young people from not having lived through the violence but instead, the immediate aftermath

I wandered, abandoned to myself for a long time. Now I am settled in a spot in west London. Formerly boasting a big Irish population, this lives on now mostly with a few pubs, one of which sells pints of Guinness for only £4.10, but which one will remain a secret, so it doesn’t go up.

And the great sorrow? I can say now that it is lessening in me, though at times I wonder how I made it through some years in my late twenties. Now I can uninhibitedly enjoy the Irish cultural revival that’s happening. I can blast Lankum and Ye Vagabonds in the bookshop that I manage, where I can feature Carmel McMahon’s In Ordinary Time and Martin Doyle’s Dirty Linen. I can sing The Mountains of Mourne without cringing, and with a real tear coming to my eye when I admit the futility of this “digging for gold”.

I have not done the healing, but I can now see what it is – a very alive trauma that tears at young people from not having lived through the violence but instead, the immediate aftermath. The “ceasefire babies” stuck with the sentiment of a society still with its back up.

Sat at the foot of the Mournes or by the beginning of the Grand Union Canal, I must stop the running and do the work. To paraphrase Patrick Pearse’s graveside oration to O’Donovan Rossa, if we are unfree within, we shall never be at peace.

  • Ross Hoey is a writer and bookshop manager from Newcastle, Co Down, now living in Brentford, London. This essay, Astray, is part of a larger concept he is working on.
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