Airports have always been central to Bryan Minton’s life. When he was carried through Dublin Airport for the first time as a baby 21 years ago, he weighed a little more than a bag of sugar and his Romanian mother did not expect him to survive.
On Friday, Bryan took his 26th flight this year alone.
It seems only fitting then that our interview would take place in the departures lounge of Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport.
“It’s been a crazy year so far,” Bryan admits.
On the 24th of February this year, Bryan walked out onto the pitch of Croke Park with his team mates and won the GAA All Ireland Junior Football Final.
Bryan is pictured first in the front row on the right-hand side.
Later that very evening he made the snap decision to do an Erasmus in Utrecht, Holland, and left the next day, with no time to inform his friends, work-mates or extended family: “I went home and Mum and Dad were sitting in the office and I said ‘Mum, Dad, book the flight to Holland. I’m going to go tomorrow. That’s it-I’m just going to decide to go.’”
Having spent the summer on a J1 in Florida and then travelling around Europe, Bryan is back in Ireland – albeit sporadically. On Saturday he was one of 50 Irish athletes who travelled to London under the wing of fitness guru Pat Divilly to partake in the Spartan Race-a 26 kilometre obstacle marathon known to some as, ‘the world’s toughest marathon race’.
Bryan insists that the key to all his achievements this year has just been a matter of gaining the right mentality: “I think oftentimes people don’t grasp the opportunity they have in life. They don’t realise what they’ve been given and just go for it, rather than sitting back and saying ‘I wish this could happen’. They need to make it happen for themselves… It’s probably only in the last eight months I realised I got this second chance that I probably shouldn’t have gotten and to make it worthwhile.”
That second chance came when Bryan’s parents in the small village of Călărași, Romania, made the heart-wrenching decision to give two Irish parents the best gift they would ever receive: their son Ily.
In the early 1990s Romania was crippled with problems caused by Communist president Nicolae Ceaușescu’s attempt to higher the birth rate by outlawing abortion and making divorce near impossible. As a result, the population swelled and was left in such extreme poverty that even families faced huge challenges in having the means to support and nurture their children, and many were forced into appalling conditions in orphanages.
For the first two weeks after Ily (Bryan) was adopted, he slept in a chest of drawers in a cockroach-infested apartment with no running water and his Irish parents Geraldine and Denis, who then brought him home to Ballinasloe, Galway.
When the Connaught Tribune covered his arrival in a piece called ‘Ceaușescu’s baby comes to Ireland’, they then sought an update interview 20 years later. RTE then picked up on his story and asked Bryan would he come to their Athlone studio to do an interview with Derek Mooney in April 2012.
For the first 20 years of his life, Bryan was reluctant to discuss his adoption. As a result he heard many of its details for the first time live on air: “When you hear some of those things for the first time you’re kind of taken aback and you’re not really sure what you’re saying because there’s all these hundreds of people listening to the interview and you’re the exact same as them because you’re listening to it for the first time too. It was a big shock”.
Bryan laughs when he describes how after the interview he went back to the Athlone Institute of Technology (where he is studying graphic design) to his friends’ emotional reactions: “I think everyone in the whole class was in tears when I went back into them.”
One of Bryan’s college friends described his entrance to the classroom that day: “He just sat down, cool as a cucumber, as if it wasn’t a big deal.”
Despite Bryan’s own reservations in discussing his adoption when he was younger, his identity as a Romanian was always made inherent by his parents celebrating his culture from an early age: “Mum and Dad never actually sat me down and told me that I was adopted. It was more so that they’d say ‘Oh Bryan, you’re from here,’ and ‘Bryan, look, there’s your flag, there’s your country.’ Whenever Romania and Ireland were playing in soccer I’d sit on one side of the room and Dad would sit on the other and we’d be both roaring at each other, you know?”
Part of their celebration of Romanian culture has been several trips to Romania to spend time with his family there. Even though he says that some of the best experiences of his life have been in Romania, his first trip aged ten was incredibly tough: “The first one was kind of strange. I went over and Mum was saying ‘We don’t know if your mum is going to be there or not.’ When I went over my mum wasn’t there. She passed away two years before so I kind of came to terms with that after a while. Even though we are brothers and sisters it didn’t feel like that the first time.”
As Bryan doesn’t speak Romanian, and his family there do not speak English, they are forced to find other ways to communicate: “It’s really hard to describe to someone how you feel when you can’t talk to them but you have this emotion inside you that’s different than anything else you’ve ever experienced. When you touch their hand there’s this feeling of safeness, love, power and comfort. On my last trip, my sister Nicholetta never let go of my hand once while I was there.”
For this reason, simple activities with them are the kind he cherishes most: “People really take playing football and hanging out with your brothers and sisters for granted but for me it was just the greatest experience in the world playing football with my brothers and taking my sister to Lidl and buying her chocolate.” Bryan also had a chance encounter with his dad in Bucharest this summer after his parents spotted him on his way to work at a construction site there: “The chances were one in three million. It was just incredible.”
Bryan insists that Irish people can learn so much from the slow pace of life in Romania: “I kind of find in Ireland a lot of people rely on their social media, Facebook and Twitter and all this. They are interacting with their phones more than anything else. When you’re in a room with someone you’re more in contact with the people outside it than with the people actually in the room.”
“When I went to Romania they all come out to the streets in the evenings. There’d be no street lamps or anything but they’d all go out and sit on the sides of the street and tell each other stories and drink a few beers. You know technology is moving society so fast that people are getting lost and the whole social aspect of things is getting lost along with that.”
Bryan speaks modestly about his plans to give back to Romania what he gained by leaving, having already raised €1,000 for electricity for the town. He intends to volunteer next summer in Râșnov, about 300km from his family: “It’s definitely not like I’ve left them forever. Some people think adoption is like that. For me it’s just a long time away from them until I go back and look after them.”