In a few days I will be on my way to England, and then to Ireland. It’s sort of a honeymoon, sort of a visit with friends and, to make a metaphor, sort of like making Aliyah. I am a native English speaker. I’m a native English speaker from a country which traces its lineage and traditions to Britain.
I’m also descended from Irish emigrants (which leads to a conflicted set of emotions. A friend of mine from the army is both Republican in sentiment [as regards Ireland] and an Anglophile; I’m not quite in his camp).
If I were to call my father up I could see if there are any relations living around Dublin. If I were to call on them I’d probably be offered hospitality. I can tell you stories from Irish myth and history (and some which straddle the line, e.g. the voyages of St. Brendan). I know the general geography. The idea of going back is bred in the bone (as is the sense of loss from having left.*
But English is my native language, and the shape of it has formed my thoughts. Learning Shakespeare, Sidney and Marlowe: Herbert, Herrick and Donne; Dickens, Defoe and Austen; Byron, Browning and Kipling, Owen, Irving, and Sassoon; The King James, the OED and Britannica; Etc., &c and sequelae, have shaped my thoughts, colored how I see poetry, and song, and drama.
So we are going to a music festival ( Sidmouth) where we will see some Oysterbandand then to Stonehenge, and HMS Victory. After that we have a couple of days in London (the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert, The Globe, The Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tower, the Thames; a month is not enough to see it all, we have a few days before the convention, and what time we steal from it).
Then a train to the coast, and a ferry to Dublin: Tara, the Book of Kells, somewhere there shall be a seisùn, and then another convention, and home again. All together we shall be gone a month, which seems a vague eternity (for this time removed is summer’s time, the Autumn, big with rich increase and I leave my grapes, my beans, my dill, my late-season asparagus, my peppers, and my nasturtia behind as well as the olives, etrogim, bay, bulbs, berries, orchids and pomegranate; all the rest which either bear year round, or not at all, to the tender care of others), and barely time to make the acquaintance of places which sit, in quiet majesty, behind and beneath my understanding of the world.
It’s not like going home, because for me, the Kingdom of Letters is all about, but it does have all the feel of a pilgrimage.
*The village named in that song is in County Mayo, which is where my maternal grandfather’s side of the family came from. My paternal grandfather’s side of the family is from down in County Cork. For some seriously strange synchronicity this is a translated cover, in Czech, which is where my grandmothers’ sides of the family came from.