I’ll be spending Christmas within the metropolis that’s now my ‘house’, Montreal

During my first 30 years living in Canada, I’d come home to Ireland for Christmas every second year. This wasn’t as simple as it might seem. Going back burnt through my two weeks annual vacation. There were no budget airlines, Christmas was high season and my ticket wasn’t cheap.

With no direct flight from Montreal to Belfast or Dublin, I’d wend my way through either New York, Boston, or London, sometimes with a stop in Shannon and then Dublin before landing, at last, at Aldergrove.

When I arrived I was exhausted, but I’d listen to mum’s litany of bad news (the Troubles were full on) until jet lag got the better of me. Sleeping in a bunk bed in a freezing bedroom – we still didn’t gave central heating – was a bit of a stretch but once beyond this adjustment stage I was fine.

I enjoyed, more than words can say, Mum’s home cooked meals, from stew, to Sunday soup, fresh baked soda farls and potato bread, date and apple squares, the big fries, and of course Christmas dinner. It was great to see everyone, especially my ever growing tribe of young nephews and nieces.

It took me most of my two weeks to become acclimated, and by then of course, it was time to go. I would arrive back to Montreal in the coldest, darkest, depths of winter. After two weeks surrounded by family my empty apartment felt close to sensory deprivation.

In 2005 I started a job that involved travel to the UK and Germany. Usually, when I finished my work in London or Berlin, I’d fly over to Belfast. In this way managed to spend more time with Mum and Dad in what would be their last years.

Dad, in his mid 80s, was losing his sight. Nonetheless, he managed to see the glass half full. When I asked him about his condition he’d reply “At least it doesn’t hurt”.

At the age of 84, Mum broke her hip and was confined to bed thereafter. Amazingly, she wasn’t upset by this. After bringing up nine kids, I believe she felt she was at last being pampered.

Leaving was still hard but not like before. My visits were shorter. I wasn’t there for Christmas. I was older and more emotionally mature. Someone was waiting for me in Montreal.

Now, Mum and Dad, all my uncles and aunts, and some of my siblings are gone. My nephews and nieces are scattered all across the UK. My remaining siblings have their own preoccupations. I’m firmly in the “out of sight and out of mind” category.

Mind you, I still go back, but to Newry, which, over the years has become my second native city. The B&B where I stay is a home away from home. There’s good company, and conversation and stunning scenic beauty — Camlough Mountain, Sliabh Gullion, and Newcastle, where the Mournes really do sweep down to the sea.

When it’s time to go, my friend drops me at the bus station where I catch an Iompair Éireann Express to Terminal 1. Air Transat flies me direct to Montreal. There’s no drama. I don’t even get jet lag.

When my old life back home finally faded, my new Montreal life was there to catch me

Through all the years of staying in touch with home, and my roots, I never neglected my relationship with Montreal. I always took advantage of what the city had to offer and even now, I still find new things to do here.

Early in 2016, I learned that Concordia University allows old fogeys like me to register in undergrad courses at bargain basement rates. I signed up for the programme and now I’m an undergrad again. It’s so much more fun this time than it was the first time, four decades ago.

I’m learning German which is not an easy language. If I took two weeks off for a trip home I’d struggle to catch up afterwards. In any event, I enjoy my courses too much to break into them. That’s why my next visit to Newry must wait until I’ve finished intermediate level, in the spring of 2018.

Without really noticing it, as I engaged with Montreal it engaged with me. It got under my skin and worked its way to my heart. It’s become the town I love so well. When my old life back home finally faded, my new Montreal life was there to catch me.

Now, if you were to ask me, “Will you be home for Christmas? I’d reply, “Of course I will. I’ll be here; this is home.”

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