Every year at Christmas – or at least on those years I travel back to Scotland at Christmastime – I end up posting images of the back of a boat. I’m an irrationally sentimental soul in spite of myself, and as such I attribute perhaps an undue importance to land masses; in particular those that happen to mean something to me. When I board the ship at Belfast for Cairnryan I always make my way to the seating at the bow of the tub so as to guarantee the first sighting of my Scotland, and early in the voyage I wander to the stern to bid farewell to Ireland.
There was a time, some years ago, when I would be almost overcome with homesickness getting on the boat, and on the return trip I would wonder sadly if I’d ever see home again. What was different on this return to Scotland was that I was not homesick on boarding, and neither was I filled with the joy of going home. Yes, Scotland is my home and I was going home, but Ireland is my home too and I was also leaving home today. How and when this change occurred I cannot say. It has come as a surprise to me – my identity has been altered and I wasn’t aware of it happening.
I certainly don’t consider myself Irish, and no Irish people I know fail to hear my Scottish accent, but then in Scotland my compatriots only hear an Irish accent. At some point in the past seventeen years I made the transition to an Outlander; as a guest in a foreign land and as a foreigner in my native land. In my early and mid-twenties I was aware of this weird new status, and I rather enjoyed it. At times I played on it. It was fun. Not so much now that I’m balding and thinking about it like an older me.
Today, leaving Ireland, for the first time I feel like I am leaving home and as I was looking back over the waves and the rises of Carrickfergus I found myself longing to turn back. In a few more years I will have lived in Ireland for as long as I have ever lived in Scotland, and I can’t see me returning home before that Rubicon has been crossed. My expectation is that this approaching threshold may be something of a point of no-return – my exile will be complete, and, for all I love my Scotland; I’m not dreading that moment. Home will always only ever be a boat trip away, but in which direction will it be sailing?