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Image / Editorial

Irish State Of Mind: Living In New York During Christmas


by Fiona McCarthy
25th Dec 2017
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From fashion to museums, opportunities and infrastructure, New York has many highlights, but for Lisa Tierney- Keogh, there’s just one little problem, which is amplified at this time of year: it’s not home.


The most important rule to follow as an emigrant? Don’t watch John Lewis Christmas ads. It’s a slippery slope that always ends in tears, and before you know if, you’re sobbing at Fáilte Ireland’s latest heart-tugging video. Being far away from home is a confusing mix of sadness and freedom. I long for my country, in deep, intense waves. And then I feel glad to be in a place where opportunity and hustle can sometimes yield a curious reward.

It’s a strange feeling to live among millions of people and feel lonely. It makes no sense and constantly surprises me. The ceaseless din of drills, sirens, horns, helicopters, shouting, banging, jet engines and more horns tells me I’m surrounded by people, but amid the racket, I feel alone.

One of the toughest challenges was navigating my Irish parenting sensibilities through the bombardment pf parenting “styles” bouncing in and out of fashion around me. I had Calpol, Sudocrem and a solid “don’t touch that” tone, but was constantly inundated with “research says” and “you really should”. I’ve learned learned not to care. everybody’s as clueless as I am, learning on the hop, trying not to mess it up too much.

This Christmas is my eighth as an official emigrant. The magical twinkle and hope and possibility of early December in New York is breathtaking. The lights on Fifth Avenue outside Tiffany’s the tree at Rockefeller, the extravagant window displays in Henri Bendel’s and Saks are beautiful.

Loneliness peaks in those days after Christmas, when you realise the magic is gone and you don’t have your family to sit around the fire with and watch zulu for the tenth time with. Scandinavians have words for this cosy time. In Norway, they call it hygge. In Ireland, we don’t have a word for it, but it’s a real thing. This is why I flee home at Christmas. To gather with my loved ones and pretend for a short time that I can live two lives.

Early January comes and as Irish people steady themselves to return to work, I get on a plane with my daughter and husband and fly back into my life in New York.

When I emigrated, I didn’t know what it would mean to be an emigrant. Some people can cut ties completely, the rest of us are left weathered by the heart to their home country. For me, it’s an impossible string to cut, so I do the New Yorker thing and put my head down and go back to work, counting the days ’til my next visit home.

Words by Lisa Tierney-Keogh