Moving from Ireland to London is a bit like discovering that you’ve got a tiny magic door inside your house, one that leads to alternate version of your house that’s almost identical, except it’s much bigger and Boris Johnson lives there. Of course, that metaphor starts to fall apart when I consider how tiny my actual London flat is, but it works insofar as London is basically Dublin with the volume turned up, enlarged and expanded and spun out to become something that’s either magnificent or terrifying, depending on how you feel about giant cities infested by burrowing trains.
I love London. I love it a lot, probably because I’m a rudderless twenty-something with no real responsibilities, but it stole something from me. I moved here eight years ago, at the age of 18, while still young and psychologically malleable enough to allow my surroundings to shape and distort my still developing brain. New friends would playfully mock my exotic Tallaght accent, calling me out on every “turty tree” and parroting my sentences back to me in exaggerated brogues. “Shur wud any-wun loike anudder point eh Guinness?,” they’d bellow in the pub after I’d offered to buy a drink. “Tee-toh, tee-tah, tee-tay.”
It was light-hearted stuff, but it was weirdly debilitating for a timid 18 year old to be so constantly scrutinised, dozens of times per day by so many people. And so it was a slow erosion of my identity when I started softening my dental fricatives just to be understood in conversation, or to be able to speak without interruption. My trees became threes, and soon after my p-arr-ks started to sound more like p-aww-ks, until the last pitiful shred of my nationality could only be found on the front of my passport and hiding in odd syllables.
I hadn’t noticed it happen until I crept back through that tiny door, back to Dublin, to find it just as alien and foreign as the place I’d moved to, filled as it is with people who now mock my audible Britishness. A voice is a deeply personal thing to have taken away from you, and mine is floating somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea. In London, people who learn that I’m Irish respond with outright disbelief, or disappointment that I’m missing what they see as the most vital component of being Irish. “The Irish accent is hot”, so many people tell me, making me feel simultaneously less Irish and less attractive in just five words.
I love London, I love it a lot, but in those moments I want nothing more than to go back and slap my 18 year old self, that kid who was so ready to abandon his identity to fit in here. What a gobshite.