Twenty Years a-Growing

On Friday April 18 1997, I left Ireland with a rucksack on my back having jacked in my job, sold my house and given everything away, and emigrated to Canada.  That was 20 years ago today.

[End of post for Simon and Gary, everyone else can read on!!  Inside joke.]

The story has already been told of what has gone on since, but you might be interested to know what it was like in the Ireland I left twenty years ago.

My nephew and godchild Harry had just been born in West Yorkshire and later that same year his cousin Billy was born in Cork.  They are all grown up now, studying complicated topics in university and drinking pints – whaaat?!

The same day as I left for Canada, my sister Sinead left for Edinburgh.  Earlier that very same week, friend Mary K had left for London and later in April friend Rita moved to Glasgow … despite the beginnings of the Celtic Tiger, the Irish were still doing what they know best – emigrating.

The Number 1 song in Ireland that week was a song to be honest, I have no memory of!  It’s called I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly.

It was the theme song for the movie Space Jam starring Michael Jordan and the animated characters from Loony Tunes.  Another thing I have no memory of – ha!  It won the 1998 Grammy Award in the ‘Best Song for a Movie or TV Show”.  Must have been hard up for talent that year.

The formidable Mary Robinson was the President of Ireland but by September of the same year, she had given up her post to take on the role of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which she later relinquished in 2002, a tad frustrated with how the UN operates.  Another strong, intelligent Irish woman took her place as President of Ireland, the indomitable Mary MacAleese – the first women in the world to succeed another woman as head of state.

Mary Robinson (l) and Mary MacAleese (r).  Photo credit The Journal.

Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer for his book Angela’s Ashes – a book describing the horrors of life in the slums of 1930s and 1940s Limerick.  A claim my mother strongly disputed as being totally untrue.  I think this probably had something to do with the fact that she did not grow up in those very slums.

After previous attempts at negotiating peace between the Catholic and Protestant groups in Northern Ireland, a credible ceasefire was agreed to in July 1997.  A brave move by the opposing leaders in the North.  These negotiations set the pace for the negotiation of what was to become the Good Friday Agreement that eventually became a reality in April 1998.  Both George Mitchel and President Bill Clinton had a hand in guiding those negotiations.

An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (l), George Mitchel (m) and Tony Blair (r).  Photo credit The Irish Times.

Kerry dominated in GAA Football (beating Cork in the final.  Sigh) and Limerick won the All Ireland Hurling Championship.  At least the victorious teams were from Munster (the province I was born in).

Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest that year in Dublin.  It’s the contest we all love to hate.  To the relief of everyone, we came second in Eurovision 1997.  You see, Ireland has this nasty habit of winning the contest frequently.  In fact I think Ireland holds the record for the country with the most wins.

The Canada I arrived to saw Jean Chretien as Prime Minister and Glen Clark as the controversial Premier of BC, the province that was to become my home.

The Red River in Manitoba flooded badly and did $500 million worth of damage.  A reminder, once I arrived in Canada, I traveled across the country by train from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, and was supposed to spend a few days in Winnipeg.  Because I was not a resident, I was not allowed off the train due to the rising river.  I remember seeing the floods barely two feet from the track.  I think my westbound train was one of the last trains to get through before the flood subsided.

This is a photo of the town of Morris, south of Winnipeg which was protected from the 1997 floodwaters by a ring dike surrounding the town.  Photo credit:  CBC

The Confederation Bridge was opened in May 1997, connecting Prince Edward Island to the New Brunswick mainland by a fixed link.  The bridge is 12.9km in length and takes about 12 minutes to cross.  Wintertime sees the Northumberland Strait waters that flows underneath the bridge, completely frozen.  The ferries that for generations had connected the island to the mainland, were put out of service soon after.

I remember the people of Prince Rupert, BC had quite the interest in the opening of the bridge and how the people of PEI would lose that sense of remoteness from the mainland.  I get that, living on an island myself.

Confederation Bridge connecting PEI with New Brunswick.  Photo credit:  Attractions Canada

The winner of the 1997 Giller Prize was Canadian Mordecai Richler with Barney’s Version and Canadian filmaker Atom Egoyan’s fabulous movie The Sweet Hereafter was released. 

The Canada I found was far more relaxed and peaceful a country than Ireland had ever been, and the diversity of it’s peoples and cultures astounded me.  It really was the beginning of something beautiful … and the party ain’t over yet, not by a long shot.

All I can say is, it has been a superb 20 years!  It’s a beautiful country there is no doubt, but what makes it home for me is my diverse groups of friends who love me, warts and all.

 Canada, my home and native land. Irish to the core, always.

PS  For those curious why I used this title, it refers to a memoir Fiche Bliain ag Fás written by Irish writer Maurice O’Sullivan and tells the story of his upbringing on the Great Blasket Island, off the coast of Dingle in Co Kerry.


About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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5 Responses to Twenty Years a-Growing

  1. Carolyn Stuart says:

    Your strength shows clearly in this review of your time. Thanks for having the dedication to share it.

  2. Heather says:

    So love you are both Irish and Canadian! Can’t wait to see you back on the west coast! X h, b, e and j

  3. Pingback: 2017 – a year that was | Bowen to Bangladesh

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