The encounter with the ‘dark’ leprechaun was an omen, for I have made a mistake with my visa arrangements and now Irish Immigration say they will deport me if I do not leave the country in three weeks time.
I discover this on a casual visit to the Garda National Immigration Bureau, located in the Orwellian Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) building, which like everything in Ireland has the Irish word Fáilte emblazoned on the door. Fáilte, meaning ‘welcome’ but pronounced faultya, as in it’s your faultya.
The story unfolds with the use of tableaux from my adventures as garnered from museums and galleries and the like.
My partner’s reaction when I tell her of my mistake with my visa and the threatened deportation —
I begin to make frantic calls to the INIS. No matter which option you press you are directed to an email address, and the email address in turn directs you to the phone number, the phone number back to the email address and so on. I finally manage to speak to a human at the Department of Justice and Equity and consequently write the Department a long letter asking permission to stay in Ireland. I say our plans are ruined! But they are silent.
I’m in the clutches of the INIS:
The only answer is to leave these shores for a short time, and return to Ireland and obtain thereby a new visa as I reenter. However, the INIS website cautions: no one is guaranteed a visa, not even you Australians.
Bristol looks nice. The ticket price is not too bad, and there’s a deal on the accommodation. So to Bristol it is!
My partner sees me off at Dublin airport; a diaspora moment:
I enter Bristol airport expecting a full immigration check — but there is nothing! No one checks, let alone stamps, my passport. This is because, I learn from the lady selling me chips in the arrivals cafe, Ireland and the UK are CTA areas: Common Travel Areas. You can pass freely between them.
But if that is so, what happens when I reenter Ireland? I need my passport stamped. I need a visa!
My first day in Bristol is eaten up with anxiety about this:
The second day I try making calls over Skype to Ireland to find out if my passport will be stamped as I reenter the country. I’m using my iPad, the WiFi in this shabby hotel in classy Clifton is weak, the line keeps dropping out. I confront the hotel manager about this, and he says, “I’m real sorry about that”. I think this is sarcasm.
Back in my room I try the INIS again, and still find that their system won’t allow you to speak to a person directly. Green is bad! Hate the green!:
Meanwhile here is my partner waiting alone anxiously:
And here is my romantic view of Ireland:
I then call Dublin airport and the Garda, and these at least are helpful and, despite the line continuing to drop out, I’m reassured that there will be full immigration control reentering the country, that I will, in theory, be allowed back in the country.
All right. I will have to live with that. I will survive, and explore this place:
Bristol is bright, young, vital, charming. In the Tourist Information Office there is a poster that reads: “Bristol, the Ultimate University City!” But what about the past? In the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery I point out to the desk person that I can see no reference on its four floors to the city’s history with slavery. Dinosaurs, behemoths, shibboleths yes, but no slaves. She gives me a withering look, which I do not appreciate, and says, “Why don’t you try the Tourist Information Office.” “Well,” I say in return, “I have tried it, and there are no references to slavery there either!”
Except, that is, a slave trade walking tour, which costs 8 pounds sterling, so that’s off the itinerary. But there is also the M Shed museum, which is free and whose pitch line is Bristol’s Museum. Bristol’s Story. We’ll see!
I go there and find a little corner in which slavery is featured, and I think: Is this all you can do, Bristol? Hello, you have a duty to do. And I make a point of speaking to a staff member about this shortcoming, and — silly me! — the staff member walks me over to another corner, which I had had my back to and which indeed has a generous exhibit on the matter. Thank you, I say. Thank you. And the first exhibit I see has this quote from the perfidious English:
“Yes,” I say under my breath, “that’s exactly how you treated the Irish.”
I walk this city, I spend three days walking it, and in my contribution to the Bristol economy I don’t eat out, don’t even have a coffee at a café. Instead, I buy at Marks & Spencers and Tesco, and eat it all in secret in my hotel room:
My strength returns, and I decide to go to nearby Bath for the day. I join the throngs at the historic Roman baths:
And there enjoy a massage:
Relaxed, I feel I can now take in some high culture and so head up to the quaint but reliable Jane Austen Museum:
Something has troubled me for a long time now. I read that Mr Darcy, although it is never mentioned in the novel, made his money through slavery. I refuse to believe it. I ask, as politely as I can, the staff at the museum shop to clarify the matter. The staff — three women wearing period dresses, complete with bonnets and ribbons — consult with each other a moment then declare that they do not know for certain but doubt it very much and then offer to sell me some lovely cakes of soap since they can’t persuade me to pay the entry fee into the museum itself.
I bow and take my leave. I then walk high up above the town, and note how my spirits are lifted. The problems of the last few weeks have fallen away. And as a sign of this, I happen upon a small gallery featuring the work of the late great British artist Beryl Cook. Her work called “The Peaceable Kingdom” is sitting in the window:
Peaceable Kingdom indeed!
And now it is time for me to leave, Bath and Bristol both. The flight to Dublin is only a little over an hour, and as much as I try to ignore it my heart rate is up. Will my passport be stamped? Will I be able to get back into Ireland? I am resolved not to leave the transit space without a visa. I will refuse to leave the airport! I am an Australian citizen and I have a right to be here! I’ve brought with me a swag of documents showing that I am a person of good character (see Appendixes attached to this blog).
We land and — great! — there is an immigration checkpoint. I make sure that I am last in line to make myself look as innocuous as possible. Indeed, when the officer gestures me to come forward, I am the only traveller left in the whole area.
He briefly looks through my passport, then stamps it with another 90-day visa. “Ah sure you’re grand,” he says, and motions me through.
Never am I happier to see Dublin airport! I get the airport shuttle back to Trinity College, then jump on a 38 bus over the Liffey to the north side where my partner is waiting for me.
From the bus I see some official buildings lit up in green, and Irish flags bedeck the windowsills here and there. I realise this is for the imminent Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Yes, I think, green is good. Go the green!