Emmanuella Okolo in the Celt offices.

‘I didn’t make a true friend until I came to Cavan’

I had been back in Ireland for almost a year but I didn’t make a true friend until I came to Cavan.Nineteen years ago, I was born in Dublin. A month after my birth, I moved to Nigeria with my mother and elder sister.

I spent the next 17 years moving around different states of Nigeria. Abuja with my mother and younger sister, boarding school with my elder sister, and Lagos with my father. I credit my six years in boarding school with giving me the independence to move to a new country at a young age.

Two years ago, at age 17, I decided to move back to Ireland for a better education.

My journey through Ireland brought me to Belfast. I lived with a family friend for two months before moving to Mullingar where I lived with another family member for two months. I also lived with a lovely couple in Granard, Co Longford, for six months.

After nearly a year in Ireland, I moved to Cavan where I have resided for the past 15 months.

My decision to move to Cavan began when I enrolled at Cavan Institute. My dream at the time was to become a nurse. The first step was to complete the Level 5 nursing course.

My second day, I heard if you study nursing in Wales, it was free. That sounded like a dream to me, so I selected five Welsh universities for my UCAS options. All I could think about was completing my course and heading off to Wales.

Months flew by and I got the long-awaited email. I got into the University of Aberystwyth. I should have been ecstatic, but I was filled with dread. I wasn’t ready to leave Ireland, I wasn’t ready to leave Cavan, and I wasn’t ready to leave my friends.

I decided not to pursue nursing further because it didn’t feel like the right field for me. I decided on pharmacy next and applied for the Level 5 Pharmacy course at Cavan Institute. A month after I started, I switched to Creative Digital Media in hopes of studying Journalism in university. Since then, I have wanted to be a marketing executive, a software programmer, and an accountant, and a journalist again. You can see why my friends call me indecisive.

I love my friends, and I’m most grateful for them because they make living in Cavan delightful. I believe that life is the connections we make with other people. That’s why I value relationships above all else.

I’ll say I’ve settled in quite nicely. My experience in Cavan has been good. There’s always a pub to visit (I’m partial to Luna’s and Blessings); a lake to see, my favourite being Green Lough (it’s a miracle I haven’t fallen in) and a store selling my favourite Irish snack, Jambons.

I haven’t encountered many challenges since I started living here. Almost everyone I meet is friendly, welcoming and interested in my life experiences. In fact, Cavan people seem as friendly and trusting as Nigerian people.

It amuses me though to hear people complaining about the roads here, trust me the roads in Nigeria are much worse!

I’m grateful to Cavan for providing me with the environment to explore my personality, discover things about myself, and catch up on my hobbies. They include reading, writing, listening to music, going to concerts, and swimming. I saw Lewis Capaldi last year at Malahide. I swore to myself I’d only go back if I really loved the artist. Coincidentally, my favourite artist Hozier (I was in his top 0.05% of listeners last year) is playing there, so I have a reason to go back.

My friends brought me along to the Tumbling Paddies concert recently and I enjoyed it so I am getting musical education too.

That’s not to say my time in Cavan hasn’t had its downsides. There were times when I felt confused, lost, and like a failure. Fortunately for me, I have always been resilient and a hard worker. Picking myself up after a stumble has never been a problem for me.

Another problem I’ve faced is casual microaggressions. An example is people assuming I can’t speak English, or worse, congratulating me when I tell them I’m fluent in the language (it’s the only language I speak). In fact, I have dual nationality - Irish/Nigerian.

Being one of the very few Nigerians in Cavan, it can be daunting going for a walk in the street, or going to class, and being the only Black person there.

Overall, Cavan has been very welcoming. And I have greatly enjoyed my time here.

My current aspirations for my future are to go to university in September. My 10 CAO choices span universities in Dublin, Cork and Sligo.

So I see myself in one of those counties in six months. As for whether or not I’ll be back to Cavan, that is a definite yes.