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Homeland and Away by Terry McDonagh, Irish Poet, Playwright and Writer
Emigration has always been an aspect of my experience of growing up in Ireland. I wrote this poem many years ago after a friend of mine, who had been demolishing old houses, came upon a table still set for breakfast in a shell of a house that had been vacant for 30 years. The family has emigrated. It would appear as if they had eaten breakfast, stood up, took their few things and left forever.
Homeland and Away
God held the keys to my homeland in the west of Ireland.
As a child I would talk to myself, hang around
old trees and watch names grow back to bark.
Some – alone for years – were found in isolated farmhouses.
When there was no other way out, we went to confession.
To say we were unhappy is to say too much.
We had laughter on tap, could sing of sadness but livelihood
was elsewhere. There was no cold or hot season – shoes were
not a must and we could sleep or suffocate on fresh air.
The Atlantic was never far off. It insisted on it’s quota of corpses,
but after the choir had sung and the few calves were sold,
families got up from the table, wrapped up as best they could
and vanished into church records. Others dropped a spade where
they stood, walked up the helpless road and never looked back.
I am old enough to leave my homeland a second time.