Arrival, Then Departure. Both Unforeseen

It only takes a few steps for the cold wind to send a shiver straight to my bones. I hunch my shoulders closer to my ears and brace a little as I walk along the river Liffey. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that it is cold in Dublin in the early days of March, but for some reason I am caught off guard. It is slightly less than two miles to the Dublin Castle from here at the quays where I enjoyed a leisurely coffee and breakfast with a friend who works nearby.

As I contemplate how fast I need to walk in order to increase my body temperature and make this walk more enjoyable, I glance to my right and notice the north side of the river is awash in sunshine. A bit removed from the haunts of the throngs of tourists, I am joined on my walk by commuters for the most part. Professionally dressed people dart in between cars to make the next bus or dash into the corner coffee shop to grab a flat white before heading into their offices. I try not to be in the way, my pace set more to a comfortable mosey than the bustle of those who are just starting their work day.

I cross over the harp shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge and instantly feel warmer as the rays of sunshine reach me. I can’t help but pause at a regular interval, turning my face to the sun and letting it radiate warmth deeper than the wind has penetrated. The right side of my lips rise into a half smile as I enjoy the bright sun and the contrast from the rainy day of walking I did yesterday. I am enjoying the walk immensely now as I move towards the center of downtown and the commuters give way to small groups of tourists. As I pass in front of the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum, a memory flashes through my mind of a walk I took in the summer of last year.

The weather was warm that day, but not uncomfortably so. I am out for a walk with a new friend who moved to Toronto a few weeks after I arrived. We think we are meandering in the general direction of the lake. We recognize the names of various streets and we are now more certain we are headed the right direction. We turn the corner of a path shaded by the old Canada Malting Company’s silos and the lake reveals itself.

As we approach the water, we’re engaged in halfhearted planning of the things we would like to see while living in Canada. As we reach the corner formed by one of the quays, I happen to notice zombie like figures emerging from a patch of grass. They startle me a bit. The look of horror and pain unmistakable on the emaciated statues. In my confusion I notice a plaque on the other side of these poor souls and I make my way over to read what it says.

It is the story of Irish migrants fleeing the famine of 1847 and arriving in Toronto. My heart hurts a little at their state – being so ghostly thin and through the lens of modern day, I had assumed they were a tawdry statement of the zombie apocalypse. The reality of such a mistake makes my heart hurt even more for the poor souls who arrived in such a state of desperation while still maintaining enough hope to have made such a treacherous journey.

A crisp breeze brings be back to the present. It is as if by design that I’ve stumbled upon the other half of the harrowing sculpture as much unexpectedly as I did the first time over three thousand miles away. I am startled by how gaunt these figures are. I had fabricated in my mind their grim state upon arrival being a result of the harrowing trip, not thinking through their flight from starvation would indicate the state they were in when they left. There are seven of them here in Dublin; only five arrive in Toronto. I notice the small child being carried, already too weak to walk, and stretch to the edges of my brain trying to remember if the child survives in the narrative of this sad tale.

I can’t help but think of what tremendous strength and courage migrants have to pick up and move across the world with only the hope or promise of a better life.

4 thoughts on “Arrival, Then Departure. Both Unforeseen

  1. What a beautifully written post! I can feel the cold wind and sun on my skin and see the haunting statues of the Irish migrants. It really makes me reflect on the hardships and courage of migrants throughout history. I’m curious, have you ever visited any other cities with significant histories of migration, and if so, what was your experience like?

    Mr Waxixe


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