Noelle McCarthy

Noelle McCarthy is a Herald columnist

Noelle McCarthy: Thanks so much for having me

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Noelle McCarthy. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Noelle McCarthy. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Herald columnist and broadcaster Noelle McCarthy wrote this farewell note before going home to Ireland.

Dear New Zealand,

By the time you read this I will be gone. Off home on CX 108, via Hong Kong. Out the door in deepest midwinter, because I couldn't bear the thought of the Rugby World Cup.

Not really. I wasn't relishing the prospect of a city overrun by drunken meat-axes come September, it's true, but I'd have endured it, if only by renting out my apartment to some foreign revellers for a thousand dollars a week.

It hasn't come to that though, because I'm going. I won't be here when the hordes descend. I won't be here when this comes out in the paper.

I'm going. Irish doesn't live here anymore.

It doesn't seem real when I write that down. It's happening too fast, for a start.

I'm leaving with a haste that borders on the unseemly. An email, a telephone call, and suddenly I'm scrambling for home with all the grace and urgency of a salmon swimming upstream.

Seven tea chests later, and there's no one reason why. A confluence of events that have conspired to change my trajectory, take me out of one place and into another, as circumstances do. A biological imperative almost, is what it feels like. Time to go. Change is the only constant. It's a cliche for a reason, and the reason is that it's true.

I've been offered a job in Ireland, so I'm going home. When I got the phone call, it took me exactly five minutes to decide. That's not an implied criticism of my life in Auckland, more an illustration of when you know it's right. And recession notwithstanding, going home feels right. Things are bad I hear, and yet I want to be there. Without knowing it, this is what I've wanted for a while. And what better time to be returning, than in the middle of this new epoch of mass emigration from Irish shores? I always want to be special, I like the thought of being the solitary salmon swimming against the tide.

But what am I leaving? I am leaving a life. I am leaving a home. Nine years I've been here, in this funny old place with the lovely manners, and the seething depths.

Nine years since I came on a plane from Melbourne, glad to be shot of Australia, steered home to a house in St Mary's Bay. I had no idea it was St Mary's Bay then obviously, no idea of where I was in the world. I liked how the light hit the ground here, soft and shadowy in August, it was a relief after the glare of the Australian sun. I remember a traffic jam in Epsom, the shine from the fancy car yards on Great South Rd. The lightness of disorientation, how comfortable it felt to have no bearings, no clue.

Everything felt completely strange and completely familiar at once. The message: there is nothing to worry about here. I have always felt that in New Zealand : there is nothing to worry about here.

Even when there is something to worry about, if you know what I mean. That's the message the landscape sends you, so unsmudged is this place, so blue and so green. Even in the workaday traffic of Epsom I heard that. Nothing to worry about here. New Zealand was unknown to me, it took the drive from the airport to the city to turn it into home.

And so I have lived here, I have turned this into my home. I've had a career here, and it's ironic that I make a living from standing out, when all I ever wanted was to fit in. I never wanted to be a traveller here, a visitor or a guest. I wanted to live here and be a part of New Zealand, which is why I read the papers from cover to cover every week.

That's a natural immigrant's desire I think, the thirst for assimilation, it's not an odd thing to want to fit in. And this is an easy country to absorb, I soaked it up like a sponge.

Being Irish helped, obviously, in relating to Kiwis, we have multiple points of entry into each others' lives. A shared sense of humour, disdain for authority, a capacity for merriment, although yours is slightly more seemly than mine.

There's the binge drinking, the passive aggression, a similar desire to leave certain things unsaid.

The shy men common to both cultures, the capable raucous women (well, the ones I found at least.)

The lazy politicians, the priggishness, the agricultural backbone. You have better collections of fine china, and we swear more, you say naughty and we say bold, but there's not too much to choose between us, aside from that. New Zealanders are as decent, and as angry and as bigoted as the Irish are.

You're poetic too, like we are, although you're embarrassed about it when you're moved to praise the sunlight and your land.

An awful lot in common, Ireland and New Zealand have. Basically, I moved from one small, rainy, querulous country to another, millions of miles away.

And from the very first moments, I felt safe here. For almost a decade New Zealand has been a safe place to land. That is not to say I kept myself safe here. I have, in my time, walked a very fine line.

And I am sad about some of the time I wasted, in my 20s, but I'll tell you what, New Zealand's a great place to have a misspent youth. We tore up Auckland, back in the day, but those are stories for another time. Or maybe, not for telling. There's still some dust to settle on that life.

All you need to know is that its possible to make some trouble here, and also have a lot of fun. I found my voice in New Zealand, after leaving Ireland because I couldn't breathe. This country kickstarted my life, took it up a notch, moved it up a gear.

Me and New Zealand. I don't quite know what the chemistry is between us, but I know that it works. I love New Zealanders because they are decent, and funny and surprising, and they aren't carrying too much baggage around.

Like all myths, the ones you tell about yourselves are only half true, the stoic cocky exists all right, but get him on the right subject and you can't shut him up. Likewise the sheilas and blokes in the cities, and the old ducks who ring up talkback when they're settling into bed for the night. New Zealanders are talkers, I've loved listening to the stories they share.

I have been privileged in my work here. The stories and the radio shows and the columns and the interviews I've gotten to do. I got a key to the life of this place, somehow, I'm still not sure, how or why. It's been magic.

An unexpected, unpredictable magic that has completely transformed my life. I can't really explain why I'm leaving now, except to say it feels like the right time.

I miss my family, and my country. The light here, while similar, isn't quite the same. It's a radical idea for me, but I want to try living in the place where I was born.

It's an experiment at this stage, and I don't know if it will work. I have never been an adult in Ireland, really, never had a career there, never contributed to the life of the place.

I have no idea whether I will be able to connect with people in Ireland the way I have connected with people here.

But I'm going to give it ago. And that means leaving New Zealand, and the cruelty of geography means I am leaving you very far behind.

But I am leaving with a very full heart. And thanks to a miracle of anatomy, there's room enough in that unruly organ for all of this place.

New Zealand fits into my heart. This place which has welcomed me, and thrilled me, and beguiled me, and kept me safe, and helped me to grow up. I am gone now, but I'm taking you with me, New Zealand.

To quote the soppiest of all poems, the poem beloved of wedding celebrants everywhere "I carry your heart with me/ (I carry it in my heart)."

Love you, miss you already

Noelle xx

- NZ Herald

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