Growing up in 1990s Ireland, I was lucky enough to have two very distinct neighbourhoods that felt like home. Each brought their own joys and pains, lessons and memories.
The first, my father’s, on the east coast. The heart of Glasnevin village – leafy, green and quiet despite its closeness to the bustle of Dublin city centre. The house was my grandparents’ since 1954 - although it would take their marriage a year later before they could share a home in Catholic Ireland. It’s there that I spent the majority of my life and there that I can still walk through the door, to be welcomed by my parents at any time.
The second, my mother’s, on the west coast. A patch of farmland in Oughterard – expansive, ancient and still, as rural West Clare tends to feel. The farmhouse was my grandparents’ and at least 5 generations before them, going back hundreds of years. It’s there that I spent much of my summers and there that my uncle still tends a few cattle, where my parents now keep a humble mobile home.
In Dublin, just around the corner are the National Botanic Gardens, home to 15,000 plant species from around the world. Neighbouring ‘the Bots’ is Glasnevin Cemetery, the final home for 1.5 million people; poets, revolutionaries, famed and unknown.
Right across the street is the tiny primary school I attended. With only 4 of us in the class, friendships were few but vital. With everything so close, the world seemed small. Later, through my teens and 20’s, my feeling of home extended beyond Glasnevin into Dublin city proper. This expansion brought vitality and a thrilling social element, as my concept of neighbourhood evolved to include not just a local area, but people beyond it of similar minds and interests.
In Clare, the surroundings are open fields of green, scattered with cattle and the odd farmhouse or cottage ruin. Nearby, the wild Atlantic rages eternally against sheer cliffs; seen at times, but always heard. Absent of city noise and light, clear nights in Clare grant the rare company of the sky’s field of stars, in total silence.
As a child here, there weren’t friends, but there was a greater presence of family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and visitors gathered, joined in plenty of work and lots of play. A busy farm, with all its nooks, crannies and old strange objects; wonderful fuel for the playful childhood imagination. Meanwhile, every hand in the family, including the littlest ones, played one role or another in the farming of cattle and crop. Now, the farm has somewhat quietened. There may be less work, play and people, but crucially it remains still a home.
Later in life, I found a third neighbourhood. This one, of my own accord. Over two years, the neighbourhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York, truly came to feel like home. With no family history there, this homeliness was built from scratch and as such it resonates in a personal way. The corner bodega, the L train, the coffee shop, the park, the landlord, the work friends, the regulars, the dive bar, the heat, the cold, the rats, the food – all of it came to spell home.
With Covid, my time in New York came to an abrupt end. Returning to Ireland after two years, my first steps were tentative; things did not feel quite right – like I was a visitor rather than a resident. I found a place to rent, by chance, in the same Dublin neighbourhood I grew up in. Soon enough, the weight of memory and experience of place pulled me back in; this is my neighbourhood, this is my home, and this will always be the case. Now, with another three years past, I feel Bushwick must have earned that same immutable quality. A return visit, someday, ought to confirm it.
The idea of neighbourhood, I equate to feeling ‘at home’. I feel lucky to have had a few. With each neighbourhood comes a distinct experience, and with diversity of experience comes learning, satisfaction, and fulfilment. It’s a comfort to know that even when separated by distance or time, a home, and all the benefits of it feeling like home, can remain. With that, comes an eagerness to be immersed in yet more neighbourhoods in the future, to experience anew all that a home can be.