On belonging

they gather

in waiting rooms and on train platforms

like migratory birds in autumn

loudly gesticulating


the great journey were about to begin
they embrace

when the long distance express

leaves the station without them

and weep their way


into cold reality

Homesickness by Ingo Cesaro, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry and Survival, Winter 1996, p. 40

Svetlana Boym defines nostalgia as a “sentiment of loss and displacement”, the nostalgia that Irish people in diaspora feel for Ireland is very much a sense of loss and longing for the homeland.

Thus, the emigrant feels the need to “preserve the cultural and moral norms of the homeland” (Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry and Survival, Winter 1996, p. 43).

Is belonging in diaspora needed? Is the fact that you “long” for the homeland mean you “belong” in a diaspora group? What is belonging? Citizenship? Comradeship?

This longing for something outside of the immediate vicinity of the immigrant in diaspora can sometimes cause life-threatening illnesses “by the tug-of-war of cultural loyalties and linguistic identities” (Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry and Survival, Winter 1996, p. 45). This manifests itself in sickness, a physical manifestation of psychological trauma.

The Irish diaspora in England have historically been very mentally unwell group. Some researchers, such as Oonagh Walsh, cite this as stemming from the famine of 1845-47. This traumatic event is definitely ingrained in the contemporary Irish consciousness, from “famine jokes” to the comment made by then-President Mary Robinson that Irish people had a ‘will to survive’ and a ‘sense of human vulnerability’. In the case of the immigrant, this ingrained trauma manifests itself in mental health issues, with Irish men and women much more likely to be admitted to hospital for mental health issues in England than any other group.

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