‘WE LEFT WITH A BACKPACK AND CAME HOME WITH KIDS’
Returning home after years spent abroad can be a momentous decision, but while there are many joys to making the move, there are just as many challenges. Here emigrants tells their stories of coming home
As “recession” emigrants return to live in Ireland in increasing numbers, one of the most common themes in the stories and opinions they share through the Irish Times Abroad forum is how moving back hasn’t felt like coming “home”.
A recent report from Crosscare Migrant Project found that while finding work and a place to live are the biggest practical issues faced by returning Irish, the emotional readjustment is often a bigger hurdle to overcome. One in five survey respondents said reintegrating into Irish society was a bigger challenge than they had expected.
Irish Times Abroad invited a group of returned emigrants to join us for a discussion about the experience of moving home, the highs, the lows, the well-reported challenges they expected – like the cost of car insurance, and difficulty finding accommodation – and others that took them by surprise.
The conversation was led by three panellists, all returned from Australia in the past two years. In the audience, more than half had spent time living in Australia, and most had moved back in recent months.
is a carpenter from Co Tyrone who set up his own construction business in Dublin, after working in Germany, the US, England and France. “Frustration with the industry” during the downturn prompted him to move to Brisbane in 2012. He returned to Dublin with his wife and three sons in 2015.
went travelling with her boyfriend in 2007 and ended up staying in Sydney, after being told by family in Ireland that the recession had hit and there were no jobs. She trained to be a lawyer, got married and had her first child, before moving to London, where baby number two was born. The family returned to Dublin last September.
Philip Loughran Orla Griffin
moved to Thailand to teach English for a year in 2009, before flying to Australia. After working a few temporary jobs, she ended up in Brisbane which became home for six and a half years. She moved back to Ireland last summer and now works with Caranua, an organisation supporting survivors of institutional abuse.
especially with kids. Australia is a great country. But home is home.
We left with a backpack and came home with two kids. My family were very surprised we came back. We looked very settled to them. Even now I still refer to Australia as home. It was never our plan to stay forever, though it almost was forever. Sydney just became our life. I had my son there and then my husband got a job offer to go to London. That came at the same time that we were thinking, the grandparents are missing the first-born grandchild on both sides.
London was a limbo. We didn’t have the backup of our Australian support network, or our Irish network. It was still seven hours door to door, which isn’t an easy journey with two kids. As all our decisions are usually made, over a bottle of wine, we said let’s go home. We had no jobs, we took the plunge. For your kids, you just want to see them grow up learning Irish - even though my Irish is terrible - and know their cousins and see their aunts and uncles and grandparents. I had gotten sick of joining the family for Sunday dinner via Facetime.
The last position I was in was with the Irish Australian Support Association of Queensland. I worked with a mothers group, and the girls who married Australians felt a bit stuck, longing for their parents’ support. Government ministers were visiting for St Patrick’s Day and asked if I planned to come back.
I asked their advice: should I be the first one home, or should I follow the crowd? They said, be the first - you’ll be competing for jobs, competing for houses. Six months later I was home. I didn’t want to grow old in Australia, so it was a case of getting out before you get caught and have too many ties.
We had the best Gaelic football team in Brisbane at one stage, and suddenly five or six girls were all lost in the one year and the same for the lads’ team. It accelerated very quickly.
In Australia, you could use your Irish charm. But when you come home, you are only one of five million Irish people here. You have to take a step back, to get back up the ladder again, get a bit of Irish experience and an Irish reference. I have definitely taken a pay decrease.
There isn’t much point in coming back because you’re homesick if you can’t get a job. There is an upbeat attitude in the construction industry in Ireland now. There’s an abundance of work. I contacted architects and engineers in my industry to let them know I was coming back. You need to be as enthusiastic in your own country as you were when you left.
I have done a complete career change. I trained as a lawyer in Australia, but wasn’t qualified when I got back to Ireland. I didn’t want to have to study law again for years so I trained as a baby sleep coach. I set myself up and it is going quite well. You have to be brave.
Orlagh: Philip: Orla:
weren’t waiting for us to move back from Australia. The memories you have with your friends are from eight or nine years ago. But it is fun making new memories.
There have been ups and downs. I am not used to having my parents tell me what to do. I have my own kids and I’m a grown-up now! My sister was 12 when I left and she’s an adult now. She wonders why I use my key going into my parents’ house, because I see it as home and she sees me as a visitor.
I think I have more of an appreciation for Ireland. It is a beautiful country that people travel from all over the world to visit. My attitude has changed towards the things I like to do and see in Ireland.
You have to learn how to do things by looking at Facebook and talking to other people, who let you know the tricks ... people were asking straight away if I had the kids’ names down for national school
ket. I had been commuting up and down to Dublin from north Meath, just over an hour, into work. I got lucky and a friend of a friend had availability in a house. I had heard absolute horror stories from friends and people I worked with about going to view rooms in Dublin and being one of 15 or 20 people turning up. But I got lucky. It was the only property I viewed. I hear it is bad.
Think of the amount of preparation you put into moving away in the first instance. Your network of friends and family can help, but you still need to do your research. Set up interviews online, get your CV out there so you come back to Ireland and hit the ground running. There’s a shortage of housing so have a plan about where you are going to stay.
You have to learn how to do things by looking at Facebook and talking to other people, who let you know the tricks. I added my mother as a named driver on my insurance policy, which brought the price down.
People were asking straight away if I had the kids’ names down for national schools. Getting them ECCE ( free preschool) places was impossible. I have to drive my son 30 minutes to playschool now. Had I known, I should have researched and had his name down.
It is important to have the right documents ready. If you are leaving Australia, proof you have sold your car or terminated your rental agreement will be important to bring home to show that Ireland now is your primary place of residence. That will make life a lot easier setting up again here, especially if you need to claim Jobseekers Allowance.
Coming home at first felt like the end of the adventure, but you need to make sure that you keep active and doing the things that you talked about missing about Ireland when you were in Australia. Don’t sit at home moping about Sydney.
Philip: Orla: Orlagh: Orla:
Read more of the discussion, or watch a video of the event, on irishtimes.com/abroad
Panellists and speakers, from left: Orla Griffin, James Parnell, Orlagh McHugh, Philip Loughran, Sarah Maria Griffin; left: Orla Griffin with her son Daniel (3): “I had gotten sick of joining the family for Sunday dinner via Facetime.” PHOTOGRAPH: DAVE MEEHAN