‘Home is the most difficult of imaginings, perhaps, after love itself’

A similar theme crops up in poems and stories that deal with the Northern Irish experience in England. We assume that those who stay at home must necessarily feel at home, fixed in a single location, unchanged by the journeys of others. The volume ends with Alrene Hughes’ Soda Bread, a wry meditation on the relationship between food, memory and displacement:

Visiting relatives brought presents Floury farls of soda bread Twisted in tissue paper A taste of home. We forget too that a person can be in place geographically but out of place spiritually and emotionally, and that for those who experience home as a site of neglect, abuse or violence, leaving it can be the first step towards recovery and growth. Novelist Mike McCormack led the workshop in the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, poet Moyra Donaldson took charge of the one in the Belfast Central Library, and the Irish Times poetry columnist John McAuliffe led the workshop at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester. For the migrant men in Ger Reidy’s short story Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner and Séamus McNally’s Ebb and Flow, home is synonymous with unresolved tensions and family conflicts over land and inheritance. In Home, Susannah Dickey writes:

I stumble and stutter and strive for acceptance. These complexities are nicely captured by Annette Sills in her short story See-saw, in which the see-saw in question comes to symbolise a young Wigan girl’s desire to balance her English and Irish identities and restore some harmony and stability to her parents’ volatile relationship. A similar theme is broached in Bernadette Davies-McGreal’s Homecoming, How Ar’ Ya!, in which she recalls how her father’s attempt to relocate from London to his Clew Bay parish ended with him “staring at a padlocked gate leading to his beloved home”. The natives look on with interest at me, the invasive species. My vowels, flat and heavy, permeate the dense air. Map of Little Ireland, Manchester, 1849

Languages, accents and speech patterns are carried across borders by migrants; so too are material things, from everyday items to treasured heirlooms to which layers of memory are attached. “Wheaten and soda farls, pancakes and slims made on the griddle. Where once there was sanctuary, continuity and the familiarity of the fixed ground, there is now contingency, relativism and the forbidding, invigorating possibility of a fresh beginning. Whether chosen or coerced, an individual’s first relocation across national frontiers brings with it an exposure to difference, an entry into foreignness, a vulnerability to prejudice, a challenge to adapt. Left a day They’d turn green Tainted in the English air. For the creative migrant, however, the assets tend to outweigh the liabilities, particularly the asset (which is also a liability) of cultural and geographical displacement. In Something About Home, it is food – and bread in particular – that assumes a special significance for the uprooted. To uproot from the landscape and community one is born into is to embark on an undetermined journey that challenges identity and changes one’s sense of self, whether these outcomes are wished for or not. The shifting tides of departure and return wash through the collection, revealing a number of common themes. “I missed homemade Irish bread,” one character recalls. What I say matters less than how I say it. There’s soda bread in Tesco’s now. That, at least, is what the writers whose work is collected in a new anthology of poetry and prose are telling us. The boy’s failure to pronounce the Irish names of townlands leaves him in “a boundary-land / Caught between the tones / Of desire and necessity / And lost to both my worlds”. It can make the migrant lose the ability to communicate deeply, fully, with the people they leave behind, the people they love. Migration is also a kind of translation from one bordered life to another. Photograph: Nick Hedges

For these and myriad other reasons, the migrant’s ledger of loss and gain remains open indefinitely, its tally continually carried over. Migration and movement are synonymous and always imply a rupture of some sort. Irish immigrant family, Moss Side, Manchester, 1969. We’d devour them Hungry for comfort Knowing they wouldn’t keep. Most of these revolve around the many subjective meanings of home

Comparable feelings of outsiderness animate Kathleen Handrick’s Going Home, in which an elderly Irish migrant’s hesitant attempt to reconnect with his Mayo roots serves only to heighten his sense of estrangement, leading him to conclude: “There’s nothing for me here.”

Other characters’ ties to home are clouded by darker emotions. It will be launched by Mike McCormack at the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar on April 10th at 8pm Liam Harte is senior lecturer in Irish and Modern Literature at the University of Manchester Each workshop series was facilitated by an accomplished writer and fired the imaginations of new and experienced writers alike. Every time we sentimentalise home as the locus of serene belonging, we overlook its capacity to vex and to alienate and to damage. Her question elicits an oblique response from the unsettled daughter in Laura Sproule’s poem Blank Canvas, who reflects: “This place where I am – / and have always wanted to be – / it’s all I dreamt of / but it’s not home to me.”

The shifting tides of departure and return wash through the collection, revealing a number of common themes. English bread seemed to be entirely made with too much yeast, which I was not used to; it did not agree with me.”

Only soda bread will satisfy Davies-McGreal’s father’s hunger after a Saturday afternoon drink, whereas it is wheaten bread that is ferried across the water in Gráinne Tobin’s poem Bread and Jam. Something About Home: New Writing on Migration and Belonging has its genesis in a series of “Writing Migration” workshops held in Castlebar, Belfast and Manchester over a six-week period in 2015, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. Something About Home: New Writing on Migration and Belonging is edited by Liam Harte and published by Geography Publications (geographypublications.com). In attending to the trials and tribulations of the uprooted, it is easy to take for granted the idea – the myth – that home is the place where we can unproblematically “be” ourselves. Davies-McGreal is one of several authors in the anthology whose work addresses the complexities of growing up second-generation Irish in Britain, and in particular the difficulty of expressing a hybrid identity in a culture that regards Irishness and Britishness as mutually exclusive categories. I never buy it. “Who would ever think he wants to make sail?” asks the mother in the poem by Christine Leckey from which the anthology takes its title, baffled that her son would wish to uproot himself from his secure family environment. Too often, perhaps, we privilege the expatriate’s experiences over those of the left behind. The heightened attunement of the second-generation ear to the relationship between language, speech and identity is subtly registered in Kevin McMahon’s poem Limbo, which explores the emotions stirred up in a Manchester-Irish boy when faced with an intimate language test while “home on holidays” in Ireland. Most of these revolve around the many subjective meanings of home, a place that is, in the words of Clodagh Brennan Harvey, “the most difficult of imaginings, perhaps, after ‘love’ itself”.