This day twenty years ago, I boarded a flight for Switzerland. Apart from my suitcase, all I had with me was my bicycle and a fold-up occasional table my grandmother had once given me. I had carried it from flatshare to flatshare and now I was carrying it with me to a new life in a new country.
Travelling light was what I did back then – in work, in love and in material things. A year earlier I had left a permanent job in The Irish Times, and my last short-term job in Dublin was producing a play for a small theatre company.
But I was ready for a steadier life, and that is what Switzerland had in store for me. My Swiss boyfriend became my husband. In our apartment in Fribourg, I finally cooked in my own kitchen with my own pots and pans. I got a job with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Eventually we had three daughters and built a house together.
I look back over those years and cannot believe how much my life has changed, and how fortunate I have been. Workwise, I reclaimed my freedom after ten years in the same job. I started writing books. This autumn, I’m organising a festival of Irish culture in Fribourg, enjoyable work that reminds me of the theatre job two decades ago.
Even though I’m as integrated as a piece of bread dipped in fondue and I speak the local languages, I haven’t always found it easy to accept my destiny as an emigrant. I didn’t realise how much I would be leaving behind, and for how long.
Acceptance. I got there eventually. I believe I will live in Ireland again – one day. But it doesn’t matter that it’s not now. Right now, this Swiss life is full in the best possible way. Yesterday evening, I went for a beautiful sunset walk with my mother (my most faithful Irish visitor) and daughters. It made me glad, yet again, that I found this place and made it my home.
Above is a photo of me from 2003 in the Gúna Nua Theatre Company office in Dame Street. It was taken a few weeks before I left Dublin for good. If I told her the whole story now, I think she would be more than ready to fold up the table once again.