I always knew it would be hard to get out of Ireland. From the moment I got here four years ago, I’ve felt right at home. I still can’t quite understand what Ireland was that I loved so furiously. Like any other place, it has its flaws and many.
The weather is characterized by being so smooth but miserable. As a toxic relationship, you can convince yourself that it’s not bad enough to justify the exit; that’s until you step on another place and remember what it’s like to be dry and warm, with the sun making regular enough appearances that your arrival doesn’t justify a jubilant celebration.
I moved here as a 23-year-old medical student. Born in Argentina, my parents moved us to Canada when I was six and I grew up there, I went to school there to get my first degree until I entered medical school as a student of postgraduate entry here in Ireland. From the first moment, I was stuck. I took the Luas every day. Three times a week I was going to pee. I started playing GAA. I discovered the Irish tradition, between classes sung by the Wolfe Tones or Christy Moore; I even formed a duo and played some shows in Dublin.
The Irish understood my sense of humor, that soft-spoken sarcasm and simple temperament, no one seemed to personally take any of my spikes. Quickly enough, I found myself wondering what the craic was, calling the fries the chips and catching a subtle excitement in my speech causing a slag when I came home to Canada every Christmas.
Ireland aspired to me, in such a subtle and sad way as few combs, and before I knew it I wanted to make a living here. My sister came to visit her at the end of my first year. We went to the Teeling distillery, just outside my gaffe at Liberties, and after he got home I showed him some Christy. I remember sitting on my bed while looking at the computer. I spoke with my head turned, feeling too vulnerable to look her in the eyes.
“I really like Ireland,” I said. “It will cost me to leave.” The conversation stopped here because I started to drown. I don’t think he noticed.
Before things could go any further, I buried the subject and continued, another habit borrowed from the locals. The only thing I could have done more Irish was pour myself a drink. This dependence on alcohol to quell the pains of life is something I didn’t understand until I moved here.
Alcohol isn’t just for pinto men either, I find its role in Irish courtship equally baffling. “Meeting” people behind the curtain of liquor smoke to make up for the fear was also new to me. I once told a story to an Irish friend about how I met a girl on the track to renew my Leap card at Trinity. We just talked about nothing in particular and got along well. It seemed like a lot of fun. I asked him if he would like to maybe have a coffee.
“Oh no,” my friend said, interrupting the story. “That’s weird. Irish guys would never do that. We’re all too uncomfortable. It’s meant to get drunk and change, and then ignore each other in public for a while.” I guess I didn’t get the grade, although I accept that no place is perfect. I still love it here.
As a newly graduated doctor, I had to leave
Why don’t I hate you more, Ireland? This is what I wonder. I still have no answer. I don’t think I’ll ever do that, because, as a newly graduated doctor, I had to leave. It seems like the country I love doesn’t want me here.
For medical school graduates in Ireland, finding a job as a doctor involves applying to start a training pathway. The first phase of this training tour is the so-called year of internships, where interns rotate through various teams that are exposed in the workplace and find their feet. Each year, hundreds of graduates apply for a finite number of internship jobs that are given based on the degree of graduation.
But there is a caveat: preference is given based on nationality. Irish doctors have the first choice above all others, followed by non-Irish EU doctors, followed by all others. That is, the Irish national with the lowest score will get a place before the non-Irish applicant with the highest score and that, theoretically, if there are enough applicants from the first two categories to fill all the positions, then no -Doctors from the EU can get a place.
As a Canadian citizen, I found myself at the bottom of the barrel. Despite having lived here for the last four years, I still consider myself a non-EU resident, because the years I have spent here as a student do not count as a resident.
While I was here, I did my best to leave my mark. I founded a conference, won a national public speaking award, finished as a national finalist in a case competition and won an academic medal in college, I even represented RCSI in the GAA Division III All-Ireland Championship (I sat on the bench, it’s still hard for me to get the ball off the ground, but I was in uniform). None of this really mattered to the HSE, and that was clear to me from day one; the rhetoric is always forceful if not discouraging.
Find a grandfather who can get you a Spanish passport,
or marrying an Irish girl
When I had my first interview at RCSI, I remember mentioning that I would be delighted to stay in Ireland after training. The interviewers cut me off, the simple suggestion disagreed with them. The only lady who interviewed me even later apologized, “We just want her to know it’s not a realistic expectation,” she said.
When I almost finished my sophomore year, I met the postgraduate medical director. He said the same thing, almost laughing. “Look for a grandfather who can get you a Spanish passport or marry an Irish girl.” She was not at all rude, but brutally honest.
When I met the head of anesthesia as a final medical student, immediately afterwards he offered me a letter of reference for the month I spent in the Beaumont ICU during the back of the first wave of pandemic, he put a lot of really with me. “Unfortunately, no matter how much we want to change that, the likelihood that there are places for you here doesn’t look good.”
Despite everything they told me, I tried to stay positive. For a while I was convinced that one of the few publications for non-EU countries can also go to me. I would take a place in Donegal, I would go to the central area, I would go to Kerry. I would put myself anywhere. Ever since I got here, I’ve wanted to stay and I was determined. All this optimism began to fade as time went on, and I had to acknowledge the reality that working conditions here are far from where I want them to be. Even if I got an internship job, which has no guarantee, I would face the same struggle for basic specialized training and higher specialized training in the following years. I would continue to wage an uphill battle because of my citizenship at every turn.
There are many others like me. Incredible doctors who want to stay in Ireland but are forced to leave. I find it frustrating that, as someone who has given so much of himself and loves this country so deeply, there is no viable way to stay. It hurts me more that someone can get off a plane from Estonia or Italy and get a place ahead despite how much I want to be here. Say whatever you want, this is the EU and I understand, but this is my bitterness.
Canada had to be my home, and yet I hadn’t been attracted to anything
So I did what any sensible man in my position would do. I filed an application elsewhere. I put my name on the hat overseas in just a few high quality places in America almost hoping they would reject me. It was a calculated risk. If I got one of these I thought, they would be too good to pass up. If I don’t, I’ll bite the bullet and gun to find a place here despite my chances. It would take something amazing to get me off this island willingly. In the end, I got a residency position at an Ivy League school in America, and that was over. I withdrew from the Irish Fellowship application and settled in Philadelphia.
Leaving Ireland was hard. The night before my flight, I was lying in an empty room and could not sleep. Not because he was nervous, but because he was sad. I didn’t want to leave. I never felt that way when I left Canada. When I was 23, I couldn’t have been happier going there. Canada had to be my home, and yet I hadn’t been attracted to anything. My family and friends are there, and I love them. I’m Canadian yes, but I don’t feel any pride or shame about it; I feel neutral. What does this say about me? I’m not sure.
My relationship with identity is complicated. I grew up speaking Spanish at home and eating Argentine food. All my friends had dinner at 6pm and I at 8.30pm. I never played hockey. I hate the cold. I never felt love for the country where I grew up and I don’t know why. When I left Canada, I felt like I was going from place to place.
It hurt me to go, Ireland, my love. Things didn’t have to be done, this time. I chose my career first and I’m sorry
Leaving Ireland felt very different. It seemed to me that he was leaving home. It seemed to me that one of my loved ones was dying. He left a part of me here, with the feeling that I would continue with something that was missing. It was such a deep and mystical connection that I wondered if any part of me had ever been here, in Ireland, long before I set foot on the island.
Perhaps somewhere in my lineage there is Celtic blood, from one of the many deserters who stormed the banks of the Rio Plata with English ships and set fire to their captains. After all, Admiral William Brown, one of Argentina’s greatest heroes, was an Irishman.
There’s a song by Ringo Starr (I know, whoever listens to Ringo’s solo work – this guy does it whoever), it’s called Liverpool 8. It’s a beautiful tune about how he left home, his fate threw him to another place, though he carried Liverpool to his heart forever. I had heard it hundreds of times and listened to his words now and they hit me a lot harder. I think leaving Ireland has helped me understand my parents ’struggle and leave their home in Argentina despite the pain it caused them. I don’t pretend to know his pain, but I think I recognize it.
This is life. It hurt me to go, Ireland, my love. Things didn’t have to be done, this time. I chose my career first and I’m sorry. A new adventure awaits me on the other side of the lake. Someday I’ll be back with a bunch of little ones to show them where their dad fell in love. Thanks for everything.
In the (slightly altered) words of Ringo Starr: Ireland I left you, but I will never let you down.