Coming home - Day 1: Three groups of emigrants talk about coming home to Ireland for good

Coming home - Day 1: Three groups of emigrants talk about coming home to Ireland for good
Clodagh, 10, Edel, Roisín, 8, Ronan, and Niamh Murphy, 5, with pet Bali, are back at home in Carlow after spending two years in the United Arab Emirates. Picture: Pat Moore

They’ve lived in far-flung lands, but it’s a case of ‘home is where the heart is’ as these Irish emigrants move back for good, writes Kelly O’Brien

‘Move abroad brought us closer as a family’

Moving abroad is an emotional and nerve-wracking leap of faith – even more so with a partner and three young kids in tow.

That was certainly the case for Carlow man Ronan Murphy. A teacher by trade, Ronan had spent 10 years working in Scoil Aireagail in South Kilkenny before he realised he needed a change. His wife, Edel, also a teacher, felt the same way.

The duo needed a challenge, a change of pace, and a financial boost. They needed to leave the country for a spell and find well-paying jobs overseas. But, with three young children, ranging in age from three to eight at the time, how would it even be possible?

“In August of 2015 we initially began considering the idea of moving abroad for work. It took six months of research and weighing up all the pros and cons before we settled on applying for teaching jobs in the United Arab Emirates,” explained Ronan.

“We decided as a family firstly if it was something that would work for us. We had many logistics to work through — what would we do about our jobs, with our house, with our cars, our daughters’ schooling.”

Initially, Australia was at the top of their list but the more they researched, the more they realised how expensive it would be to actually emigrate there as a family.

“Then we spoke to people we knew who lived or had lived in the UAE and they spoke of the great lifestyle for families and career opportunities available,” said Ronan.

“The opportunities, climate, and packages available to teachers definitely appealed to us. So we worked on our CVs and applied for several teaching positions and then we sat and waited for several months as things slowly fell into place. It was definitely something that did not happen overnight.”

Slowly but surely it all came together. The couple secured well-paid teaching jobs in the UAE. The packages included flights from Ireland to the UAE, accommodation, medical insurance, and private schooling for their two daughters. The icing on the cake? Tax-free wages.

Ronan and Edel began to tell their friends and family that it was finally happening – that their move to the UAE was imminent. Some were happy for them. Some were not.

“We received very mixed reactions. Some congratulated us on being so brave whilst others commented on how crazy we were to ‘drag’ our kids away from family and safety of home. We understood quickly how people had very mixed, sometimes confused, opinions of the UAE. At times it became more about convincing people we were moving to a safe country not to a war zone!”

Then it eventually became time to leave, and Ronan and Edel had to say goodbye to their family, their friends, to the lives they had built here: “We could see the hearts of our family break as we said goodbye, but every step of the way they stood by us and did everything they could to make the packing and sorting out as smooth as possible.”

Overall, while Ronan admits it was an incredibly hard decision to make, both he and Edel knew it was for the best: “We both decided we were ready for a challenge and a change, even if it was only going to be in the short term. We always knew this wasn’t a permanent move and initially agreed to one year but were open to five years. In the end, we were abroad for two years.”

“But it was a hard decision knowing we would be far away from family and friends and without any close support network.

“We fretted about how the kids would settle without grandparents and friends but, in the end, we agreed we would regret not making the decision to go.”

One of the most difficult aspects of the move turned out to be the somewhat overwhelming volume of paperwork that needed to be filled out.

“It was very time-consuming and expensive. All our documents had to be attested legally, down to our children’s school reports, and every document cost an individual fee. Then the paperwork, once we arrived in the country, was also very complicated and detailed, and their government system was often unclear, so getting visas for our children was long, complicated and time-consuming.”

They also found it hard adapting to a new culture, and not being able to pop over to their parents’ houses for chats and cups of tea.

The positives, however, far outweighed the negatives. Ronan says his family unit became closer as a result of being abroad with only each other for company, initially - and benefitted from being in a country as family orientated as the UAE.

The country is also a major travel hub, which meant the family now found themselves in a position to visit countries such as Sri Lanka, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Jordan.

“It was such an amazing thing to do as a family, and something we could never have afforded from home. Over the two years living there and the countless visits from family and friends, we managed to travel abroad, cover all the tourist sights in the UAE itself, and even learn a few words of Arabic,” said Ronan.

The family ended up spending two whole Christmas seasons abroad.

“We embraced our new life and spent our first Christmas travelling the island of Sri Lanka. Our second Christmas abroad was spent in a campervan touring the North and South islands of New Zealand. Whilst we missed family, and some of the traditions of Christmas back home, we were excited to have the opportunity to experience different cultures and show our girls a different part of the world.”

Having returned to Ireland in July of this year, they are now back at home in Carlow for their first festive season since they flew to Abu Dhabi in 2016.

“It was a hard decision to eventually return home, but we felt our daughters were missing out on their schooling in Ireland and we really didn’t want them to be at a disadvantage when they eventually returned. We missed family too, and homesickness was definitely a factor,” explained Ronan.

“To have friends and family so close by now, and to see our daughters so settled and happy to be home makes us happy to be home. We miss the sunshine and the relaxed family atmosphere that prevails in the UAE, but wrapping up on a crisp winter’s day is sometimes nice too.”

Overall, Ronan says he is immensely happy they took the decision to move abroad: “For us, it was a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to do something different and experience a different way of life and culture. We made friends that will last a lifetime. We grew as teachers in our careers through teaching in international schools. We became closer as a family as we only had each other to rely on. We travelled as much of the world as we could and we tried to make the most of everything we had.”

“We have no regrets. We worked hard to get out there, we worked hard there, but we absolutely made the most of it.”

‘The Irish help each other through thick and thin abroad’

Photographer/video editor Martin Dunne learned how to use Instagram to find a job in the TV and film industry.
Photographer/video editor Martin Dunne learned how to use Instagram to find a job in the TV and film industry.

Three years ago, Cork man Martin Dunne told his mother he was moving to Canada. She didn’t believe him.

A short while later, Martin told his mother he had been accepted for a work permit, and was moving to Canada. She still didn’t believe him.

The next step was buying the plane ticket. It was then that his mother believed him.

“My mam cried quite a bit in the months running up my departure date… I will always remember it. I thought she was being silly, but then the day before I was due to fly out, I was standing in the living room with my mam inspecting my bags to make sure I had everything that I needed… and I remember a wave of emotion surging through my body and a flood of tears poured freely. It was only then that it hit me, that I wouldn’t see my friends or family for at least two years.”

But Martin had just finished his studies in multimedia and wanted to experience life in Vancouver — a place often referred to as Hollywood North: “The reason I wanted to go here was that they have a lot of TV and film production companies. It was always my dream to make a movie, ever since I was a little kid. So I went.”

“I found a place to live pretty easily. My buddy from Cork had a brother living there and he had a spare room in his house going.

“It worked out pretty well and I ended up living there for a year and a half.”

Finding a job in the film industry proved to be the hardest part of Martin’s move: “I was applying for positions every day since the day I landed, sometimes sending out 50+ CVs a day, much of the time without a response. I brought close to €10,000 with me, but money does not last long in Vancouver and after two months of not working, I was starting to eat into my money.”

“I found a job working in a camera shop selling cameras… but I hated it.”

After two months, Martin received some invaluable advice. A friend told him to start using Instagram to get more exposure – to use specific hashtags when putting up posts about Vancouver: “I started doing it thinking it would have no effect. I was very wrong. I went from having 200 followers to 1,000 followers in the space of two weeks. It just so happened that one of the first people that started following and liking my images turned out to be a man by the name of Miles Forester — a local director of a film production company called Hadron Films.”

Martin checked out the company and liked what he saw. He then sent Miles a message: “I told him how much I admired the work they were producing. He asked me about myself and I told him I was a photographer/video editor, and he told me he was actually looking for a video editor at the moment and asked me to have a coffee on Monday morning.”

“I couldn’t believe my luck. I went and met him, we had a coffee, and he brought me to the studio and introduced me to the crew. I was blown away. Miles told me he had a project for me - a pilot episode for a TV show. He told me he wasn’t going to pay me, but if I did well, we would talk. I had five days to edit it.”

Martin said he must have done something right, because he ended up working for Hadron Films for the next two years, and fulfilled his dream of editing a feature-length movie: “It’s called Thirty-Seventeen. The movie is just now reaching its final stage of production with sound and colour. Hopefully, it will hit cinema screens next summer.”

With such a fulfilling job, Martin was tempted to stay longer — had it not been for the high cost of living.

“I realised that I would never own property there as everything was so expensive,” he said.

“The price of food is insane and, in general, the cost of living is extremely high. People think renting in Ireland is expensive? They should look up renting in Vancouver. Even if you made 10k a month you probably only just get by.”

Martin said he learned a lot about himself while in Canada, however, and that moving to a different country made him more confident and more independent.

“I also learned how much Irish people take care of each other,” he said.

“The Irish stick together when abroad and we help each other out through thick and thin, whether that’s a couch to crash on, help finding a place to live, or an ear to listen to when feeling homesick.”

“[Overall], moving abroad was one of the best experiences I ever had.

“I made a lot of amazing friends and had some incredible stories and memories that I will cherish forever.”

‘London is fantastic — but we knew we could only settle in Ireland’

Mary Ennis is moving back to Ireland after living in London for more than seven years
Mary Ennis is moving back to Ireland after living in London for more than seven years

With two siblings already living and working in Australia, Mary Ennis’ family and friends all thought it inevitable that she would move abroad as well – to Oz itself or to some other far-flung destination.

The surprise, therefore, came not when Mary decided to emigrate, but when she said that she only intended to go as far as London.

“I was finishing university and I had no plans. Everyone I knew was moving further afield. I felt like London would have opportunity, but was not too drastic a move,” reveals the Limerick woman.

“I made the decision to move in 2011, only a couple of months before I left. I booked my flights and I went! I did no research, had nothing secured - no job or flat or anything.”

She didn’t know it at the time, but Mary, who moved to London with her partner, was to live abroad for more than seven years.

“The first 12 months were brutal,” she said. “Partly because I had done no research, but also because we both struggled to get employment. We both ended up working in dodgy companies for terrible wages, and it was rough. After eight months, we were both in better work and after 12 months we moved to a better area and things steadily got better.

“London is fantastic, but when you’re struggling to pay rent and have no disposable income, or support system in the same country, it’s a lonely place.”

Mary and her partner eventually moved back home, returning only last month: “We made the decision we would move when we both turned 30. I loved London but we knew we couldn’t ever afford property there and we didn’t want to raise kids there. We knew we could only settle in Ireland. We want to buy a house and potentially start a family.”

While Mary admits it was difficult to live abroad, particularly in those initial few months, she said the experience really helped her grow as a person and taught her a lot: “The first year was so tough that it really gave me a self-confidence and belief that I can create something from nothing. We built a very full and fulfilling life in London. The experiences we had and the people we met were amazing, we made lifelong friends there.”

“I was sad to leave London, but I will say when I landed back in Shannon, it felt like a weight had been lifted.”

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