The short answer: Nearly everything.
Although I have now spent much more time off the island than I did growing up there, Ireland – and Northern Ireland in particular – has profoundly shaped me, both for weal and for woe.
One of the very few Catholics in our Belfast neighborhood, I learned at a tender age about different expressions of Christianity and that there was something “wrong” about being Catholic. I have many memories of outright bigotry — of our next door neighbor, for example, casually announcing, “Catholics are dirty and they breed like rabbits.” I think that environment bred in me a sense of never truly belonging and I developed an exaggerated need to help and please others. I was a chronically polite little boy.
Although both my parents struggled against it as best they could, the Catholicism of my Irish childhood was quite marked by Jansenism and this infected me fairly badly. My three decades with the Jesuits has cured me of this tendency… most of the time.
There was great stuff as well: the wit and word play, the landscape (when it wasn’t raining too hard!), the genuine warmth of the people, and the Guinness!
I left Ireland in 1979 but I still sound as if I “got off the boat” yesterday. I demonstrate my Irishness with every word I utter. What a blessing!