Michaela Miller feels a connection between the open green spaces of Ireland and her eastern Kentucky home
I noticed it first when I was walking through the forest at Blarney Castle in Co Cork. I looked over to one of my roommates and said: “This is home.”
The vibrant meadows, the rolling green hills, the sound of rushing water and the trees that stretch for miles gave me the sense I was back in Appalachia.
The Appalachian region of the United States stretches from Georgia all the way to the state of New York, but ‘Appalachia’ is a term that is more often used to describe West Virginia, Virginia, eastern Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.
The region owes a lot of its culture to the Scots-Irish, many of whom immigrated to this mountainous region in the United States. Our folk music, history of quilting, the Appalachian accent: all have a Scots-Irish influence.
I believe the Scots-Irish people felt safe when they settled down in the mountains of Appalachia. Just like I feel safe traveling through the green hills of Ireland. It feels like home.
It was early in the morning when I caught my flight to Dublin from Cincinnati, Ohio. Being my first time flying out of the country, I had no idea what to expect. The drive to the airport was three hours from my home in southeastern Kentucky, where there are no airports nearby — or shopping malls, or big businesses, or traffic. But it’s home.
I am a fourth-year college student in the United States, where I attend Western Kentucky University, which is on the opposite side of the state from my hometown. Recalling the first night in my dormitory four years ago, myself and a group of girls who lived in my hall sat outside of our rooms introducing one another. One girl, who was from a northern city in Kentucky, told me I had a “very thick accent”. She then proceeded to raise her eyebrows and asked where I lived.
When I said I was from the eastern part of the state, the girl then said she “could never survive there”. This was just the beginning of the remarks I would receive during my time in college. A lot of these remarks and behaviours, such as people losing eye contact after I told them I was from eastern Kentucky, became a part of a normal day. It came from peers, professors and colleagues.
Some popular stereotypes about Appalachians involve drugs, being uneducated, having rotted teeth and living in extreme poverty. And yes, there is poverty throughout the region. But that does not mean that there are not creative, strong-minded and rooted individuals that reside there.
Now I am interning abroad in Dublin, and I have had the opportunity to work for a multicultural newspaper. In doing so, I have been able to hear the stories of several different people hailing from different countries around the world who have immigrated to Ireland.
It astounds me how many people face discrimination every day for the way they speak, their dress or the colour of their skin. By working here, I have had the opportunity to hear many immigrants’ stories and it has made me want to sharpen my storytelling skills even more, because the world needs to know about the injustices prevailing in our society. I hear many remarks about my accent as an Appalachian American, but I cannot begin to understand the discrimination people encounter every day.
Reminded of home
During my time at Metro Éireann, I have talked with many people about why they came to Ireland, or why they chose to stay. Many of them answered with: “It just felt like home.”
My first instinct was to ask them how it felt that way, but many of them could not describe the sensation. However, I think I have learned what they meant.
A home can be a reflection of who you are, and where you feel at ease. Many people I talked to said they just felt comfortable in Ireland, and that’s when they decided to make their move.
Appalachia is a reflection of who I am, and there are times when I am in Ireland that I’m reminded of my home place. While I plan on flying back to eastern Kentucky in a few weeks and I may never make an official move to Ireland, it will always feel like home.
Michaela Miller is an intern wth Metro Eireann and a student at Western Kentucky University. She hails from eastern Kentucky.