Gone but not forgotten − sadness and tears as Ireland’s diaspora go ‘home’
PUBLISHED30/12/2014 | 02:30
Over the next few days, hundreds of thousands of people who came home for Christmas to warm embraces, tears of joy and Irish breakfasts will be leaving our shores again to continue life elsewhere. In their absence, the day-to-day humdrum continues without them, peppered with life changing events like births, marriages and deaths.
When I was at the airport before Christmas there were outbursts of emotion and random screams as grandparents got to see their grandchildren for the first time, mothers saw their long-lost sons and sisters hugged each other after five years apart. No matter how much you Skype or call, it’s just not the same as having your loved home.
“For me, it’s only going to be visits from now on,” one mother told me recently. “I’m counting the days to when my son goes back to Perth. He’s just been offered a new job and he’s going to stay there for the foreseeable future. It’s terrible. I get really emotional thinking about it.”
She says he left Ireland because he didn’t have the same opportunities here as he does in Australia. “He works as a doctor; he wouldn’t move up the ranks as quickly in Ireland.”
Her other son moved to work in the financial sector in London, also because of a lack of opportunity. “I miss my children, but I accept it. They leave the nest and that’s the way it should be.” It would be odd for a fully-grown adult to be found in the motherly nest holding hands with mum and dad. That said, it’s not easy to say goodbye to children living in Australia or New Zealand. The high cost of visiting means either party can only make the trek once every few years. In most cases, parents would have prepared themselves for their offspring spending a snowboard season in New Zealand. The fact that their child would meet someone, get married, have children and settle there probably wasn’t on the remit.
I remember reading about a woman who missed her mother’s sudden death and subsequent funeral because she was in hospital giving birth abroad. While a school-friend of mine had to fly home from New Zealand recently after his father’s sudden death. He’s an only child and I remember thinking how sad it must be for the parents of only children to not be a big part of their lives at all.
In most cases people who go away suffer less than those left behind. “My mother begs me to come home every time we Skype,” one friend living in Australia told me. “I’m getting married in Ireland next year so we may stay on. I like Australia, but lots of things at home are better.”
Obviously it’s not all bad. Lots of Irish people thrive abroad, like those who started million/billion-dollar companies in Silicon Valley or others making a huge impact on the film industry in Los Angeles. “If you want to live your dream, you have to come here. This place is filled with opportunity and positivity. It’s one of the great creative centres of the world,” Irish-Italian movie director Vittoria Colonna told me.
Yet for all the success stories, there are people struggling abroad, afraid to pack up and leave for fear of not getting a job here. They don’t want to uproot an entire family only to find that they can’t afford to rent, let alone buy a place back home, so instead they’re stuck in an Antipodean outpost while their families miss them at home. It’s a tough call. Having experienced being penniless in Australia some years back, I wish I had left sooner rather than sit out the torture. I didn’t have a family, so I could easily have moved. I just went on to be penniless elsewhere. It took a while to realise that it was definitely easier to be broke at home.
My generation – Generation X – mostly stayed here and weathered the storm during the grand exodus, while the generation after me left in their droves. Many of us didn’t have the money to leave in the first place, or we had experienced first hand that the grass wasn’t necessarily greener and probably couldn’t be bothered starting again somewhere new. When I speak to Generation Y lings or Millennials, it’s an entirely different story. Their social media pages are filled with photographs of friends living abroad.
“If you have all your children living in the same country, you can count yourself lucky,” a mother-of-three told me.
It’s not that parents would ever want to talk their children out of moving abroad and spreading their wings, but does it have to be so far away, they say. I think foreign travel and living abroad is fantastic, but don’t be afraid to come home if you don’t like it.
The Pacific Rim is nice for a few years, but so is a Sunday roast at home followed by a few pints.