Coming home - Day 2: Three emigrants talk about returning home to Ireland

Kelly O'Brien meets some of the ex-pats people returning home to Ireland.

‘Move gave me greater sense of being Irish’

Studying at the University of Limerick, and living at home in Shannon, Co Clare, Daragh McCoy was looking forward to life after graduation as a full-time teacher.

However, Daragh found himself thrown into a saturated job market. There were too many teachers, and not enough posts for them all.

He took his skills in engineering and technical graphics and secured employment in the industrial sector, making airplane parts.

One year later, Daragh ran into a former classmate who had emigrated immediately after graduation and was now successfully teaching abroad: “He explained how easy it was to secure employment in the education sector in London and that they were practically crying out for teachers in every subject.”

Daragh McCoy with his parernts Mary and Rick and dogs Rico and Santan at home in Shannon, Co Clare. Picture: Eamon Ward
Daragh McCoy with his parernts Mary and Rick and dogs Rico and Santan at home in Shannon, Co Clare. Picture: Eamon Ward

While he liked the industrial work he had been doing, Daragh said he was not happy or fulfilled while doing it: “This was not the area I wanted to work in long term... I wasn’t particularly happy in the fact that I wasn’t teaching for the year. So I decided to move to the UK to gain some invaluable teaching experience to then eventually move home with. This, I felt, could potentially set me apart from other candidates when applying for jobs here in the future.”

Daragh’s friend from university put him in touch with an agency he had used to secure employment: “It kind of steamrolled on from there. I sought advice from family and friends and decided it would be a wasted opportunity not to move abroad for some time. The pros definitely outweighed the cons in the end.”

His family were all for it, despite some initial reservations: “My brothers were both home birds and had never really strayed too far from home so I think my parents were a little apprehensive but very supportive in the end. At the time, a lot of my friends had also just graduated from college in various different fields and a lot of them were moving off to different parts of the world too. Some heading to Canada, the US, and the UAE. It was the perfect time to leave really,” said Daragh.

But it was definitely a tough decision considering I didn’t even move out of home during my four years in UL. I was far too used to home comforts but very excited about the opportunity that lay ahead and finding my own two feet away from home. In the end, in terms of career progression, I knew it was the right move and I just had to do it.

Through his friend’s agency, Daragh secured employment at a school in south-west London. He bought a flight, packed his bags, and made the move: “Initially I left on a very wet Monday evening and did not have a place to live on the other side. I had a hotel booked and viewings for a few potential houses the following day. I was lucky in the fact that the first place I viewed was within my budget, a great house, and near to where I would be working. Luckily the room was currently vacant and I was able to move in that day. Off to a smooth start as far as I was concerned. There were no issues with visas due to the lovely EU but that could soon be a different story in today’s climate.”

Overall, Daragh was abroad for more than two years but recently moved back home — largely because he didn’t want to accidentally fall into a permanent move abroad: “Initially the plan was to stay for two full school years. As it happened a colleague fell pregnant and my head of department asked me to stay on until she returned to work, to limit the disruption to our exam year student. I obliged and extended my stay by another four months.

“I was asked to stay on and decided against it. I had gotten to the point where it was either move home and hope that my experience would help in gaining employment… or settle down for the long haul in London. I could so easily have done so and I think that was nearly what pushed me over the edge and home in the end. I had built up a great bank of friends and housemates and also, having a cousin nearby, I had family too. But in the end, I had always planned to move home. I feel that living abroad gave me a greater sense of what it is to be Irish, and in the long run, I would want any future children I may have to grow up with that same feeling here at home.”

While Daragh said moving abroad was the best thing he could have done at the time to further his career, he admits being away from friends and family was tough, especially initially: “It was great to have my own classes with full-time hours. I was doing what I set out to do when I originally started in UL and I was loving it. But not having family and friends around to rely on is tough. It generally comes down to organise Skype calls, that can sometimes fall through, just to feel like you’re still in the loop.

“But as the saying goes, ‘find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. So although I had some challenging days, and some challenging students, it was brilliant overall. Also, finding my own two feet away from home was great — that bit of independence that you don’t get from relying too much on family and friends.”

Daragh moved back home a number of months ago, and was rewarded — he managed to nab a teaching post here: “In the end, it did exactly what I needed it to. I have secured full-time employment here at home in the education sector and that is definitely due to the experience I gained while working in London,” he said.

“I’m very happy. I took a leap of faith, twice, and both times it has worked out.”

‘I’m a home bird. Christmas was horrible in the heat without everyone’

At the start of last year, Kilkenny woman Sarah Culleton started thinking about making a drastic change — upping sticks and moving to Australia.

“Initially it was because I wanted a change, the sun, an opportunity for adventure, and to meet new people from all over the world before I settled down for good,” she said.

“I decided I was going one day and there was no stopping me.”

Sarah recruited a friend to go with her — Mairead, from West Cork, whom she had met in college — and the two made plans to fly over to Mairead’s sister in Melbourne who agreed to take the two girls in until they could get on their feet.

Kilkenny native Sarah Culleton, with Australian cattle dog Jake.
Kilkenny native Sarah Culleton, with Australian cattle dog Jake.

“My Mam initially tried to talk me out of it. Being the eldest child I guess it was a scary thought for her letting me go so far away. My Grandad gave out to me too — ‘Why would you want to go over there? Leaving a perfectly good job’ — but they came around when they realised I was going no matter what,” says Sarah.

The girls began their travels with a holiday around Thailand and then landed in Melbourne. From there, Sarah travelled to a town called Jerilderie where she began a five-month stint of rural work.

It was the craziest experience I’ve ever had — the country Aussies are something else. It was mainly a good experience. I worked in a bar, dosed cattle, dipped, sheered, and drenched sheep, picked canola — rapeseed — and harvested onions.

Sarah decided then that she wanted to move on to Sydney. She attended a music festival and happened to bump into old friends while there. One of them was moving out of her accommodation, so Sarah simply moved into her old room without having to look for accommodation at all. She also managed to find a job without any problems, and spent the next five months living and working in Sydney as a dental nurse.

Despite the distinct lack of hassle, however, Sarah began to miss the land of Saints and Scholars: “I’m a home bird so missing friends and family was the hardest thing. Christmas was horrible in the heat without everyone. I returned home for a visit earlier this year… but then I got comfy and stayed!”

Now, Sarah is looking towards further education: “I plan to go back to college to study midwifery and that’s why I’ve stayed home - to apply. If I don’t get it then I’ll go back to Australia come September for another year.

“If I do get it, I’ll study here and then I’ll go back to Australia for a year after I finish my studies because there are great opportunities for midwives over there.”

‘I was afraid there was nothing at home for me’

A desire to travel and a longing for freedom were the two main reasons Limerick woman Cathy Guerin packed her bags and went to live on the other side of the world.

Having grown up in Limerick, Cathy attended primary school, secondary school, and university all not very far from her family home.

Cathy Guerin: Five years abroad.
Cathy Guerin: Five years abroad.

Approaching her final year in the University of Limerick, she saw friends moving to Australia and New Zealand and revelling in better weather, enjoying an improved quality of life, and securing good jobs.

She knew she wanted to do the same: “My first step was to find someone that would travel with me. At the time lots of people around me in college were talking about moving to Australia but nobody seemed to be actually committing. So I got in contact with an ex-boyfriend who was living in New Zealand and from there the planning started.”

“I worked as a waitress all through college so I was very confident that I would get a job easily. Getting a job pertaining to my degree was not an intention of mine at the time. Travelling and shaking off the stress of college was my main goal.”

Her family were very supportive of the move: “They knew that the job prospects were not there for me. They were excited and living vicariously through me, I think.”

In addition, Cathy reassured them she would be gone for less than a year. As it turned out, it would be almost five years before Cathy’s eventual move home – the Limerick woman ended up reuniting with her aforementioned ex-boyfriend while in New Zealand. The two are now engaged and have recently returned home together to settle down.

While it has been undoubtedly a happy ending for Cathy, she said the initial move over was quite hard: “The most difficult aspect of living abroad, especially somewhere as far away as New Zealand, is that you miss your family a lot. Going home [to visit] really isn’t an option because it is too expensive. You also cannot expect your parents and family to travel such a long distance to see you.”

“Family is definitely what I missed the most… but Irish sausages and black pudding would be a close second!” Homesickness aside, Cathy soon realised life in New Zealand was everything people said it was – and more: “I got a job pretty much straight away and was earning a good wage. Luckily it is easy enough to get a work visa for New Zealand if you are Irish. The first visa I mean. After a year then you have to be sponsored by a company who will vouch for you. This process was quite stressful actually.”

But the best thing about living abroad in New Zealand really is the quality of life. People over there are so laid-back and a lot less negative than people in Ireland, in my opinion. They really know how to live life to the fullest. At home in Ireland, I felt that there was always a cloud of negativity with people. The weather, of course, was also a massive plus. The hot summers and cold snowy winters were wonderful.

While abroad, Cathy said she learned a lot about being positive and really living your life to the max. She also learned how to be independent and trust her own instincts: “I honestly think that every single person should live abroad for at least a year.”

“A lot of the reason why I didn’t come home sooner was because I believed there was nothing at home for me. Hearing from friends that returned home before us from New Zealand say that they were loving it really encouraged me to make the move.”

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