Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

The visiting emigrant’s impression: ‘People weren’t splashing the cash’

Thousands of Irish people living overseas made their way back to Ireland for Christmas. Ciara Kenny spoke to emigrants new and old to see what they thought of the country while here.

Fri, Jan 6, 2012, 08:51

   

Thousands of Irish people living overseas made their way back to Ireland for Christmas. Ciara Kenny spoke to emigrants new and old to see what they thought of the country while here.

Cara Nig Fhearraigh moved from Dublin to Brussels last March to do a translation traineeship in the European Commission

Cara Nig Fhearraigh in Kerry

Overall, people seem more accepting of their situation now and of the fate of the Irish economy for the time being. I’m sure people are still very angry and upset, but they don’t seem to be talking about it as much as they were before I left, when there was some hope of change in the run-up to the general election.

A few of my friends are getting married this year, and I found that was a more important and interesting topic of conversation among them. Perhaps we are all just sick of talking about the recession and the economy.

Since I left, more and more of my friends have gone abroad. Some of them went away with the intention of staying abroad for a year or so, but it’s unlikely they will be coming home any time soon. Those who did come back for Christmas couldn’t wait to leave again and get back to their new lives abroad.

With a lot of people away this year, Christmas seemed very quiet. A good few of my boyfriend’s friends have also moved to Australia, so there were fewer people around for us to go for drinks with over the Christmas period.

I miss home at times, and I had hoped to come back to Ireland permanently next summer and look for a job, but I know now after being back here for Christmas that finding my dream job at home is not likely this year.

Amanda Hilton Sawyer emigrated from Ireland in the 1980s. She now lives in New York, where she sells real estate

I go home at least twice a year to Limerick. On Christmas Eve it is traditional for our family to go to the city for some last-minute shopping and lunch. Last year we went to Brown Thomas where I bought my niece a DG dress followed by a champagne lunch at a nearby hotel. That all seems very obnoxious now.

We decided not to pressure any members of the family with expensive presents. Gifts were small, special and well thought out. We didn’t argue or complain. We enjoyed each other’s company and it was one of the nicest Christmases we had in a long time.

What struck me the most when I was home this Christmas was the lack of discussion about the current crisis. My family is opinionated and political, but for the first time since I can remember there was no “debate” at the kitchen table. I also noticed the same trend when I met friends for drinks. I don’t think it is denial as much as a pause. I think the media is failing miserably in communicating how bad the situation is.

Claire Gorman moved to Abu Dhabi in August to take a job as a primary school teacher, after spending a year as a freelance journalist in Dublin

Claire Gorman at home in Carrick-on-Shannon with her parents Mary and Jim

Coming home to Carrick-on-Shannon from Abu Dhabi for Christmas was always going to be a shock to the system, not just because of the weather.

The first thing that struck me was the welcome. I have travelled a lot before, but never understood why Ireland was so famous for its céad míle fáilte. But everyone was so warm and friendly. It was something I had never appreciated before, which probably got lost in the days of the Celtic Tiger.

Emigration is so common now in Carrick. I could have told the local priest that I was selling mangoes and chimpanzees off a stall along the Amazon and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Emigration has come around for another generation and we have had no choice but to accept it.

People weren’t splashing the cash around to the extent you would see in the Middle East, which was no surprise. But it did seem a lot quieter on nights out, compared with other years.

I don’t see the country being run any better than it was previously. The injustices continue, and I’m happy not to be a part of that for now.

Lugging down the suitcase from the attic to be packed up with enough boxty and crisps as I can fit, I’m excited about the next chapter of my life in the UAE. But I’m also gutted to be leaving my friends and family.

Simon O’Callaghan moved from Dublin to London in 2001, where he works in finance

Simon O'Callaghan

I come home every Christmas and several times during the year. I’m very lucky in that I have a good job and can stay with my parents when home, so I have a pretty ideal Christmas with family, friends, dinner, presents and free time. Christmas mass in Clarendon Street Church was the highlight, with beautiful music and a brilliant sermon.

What has struck me in the last few months, and especially at Christmas, was the huge change in the work ethic in Dublin. The quality of customer service was exceptionally good from Aer Lingus cabin crew, shop staff, taxi drivers, bus drivers, sole traders, clothes merchants, barmen, waitresses and hoteliers.

Gone was the “you’re lucky to be in our shop” attitude of the Tiger years, replaced instead by a genuine “how may I help you?” Irish-made produce was better quality and value than the lottery prices of previous years.

People talk about their house now and not their site or investment property. I didn’t hear any racism from taxi drivers, just realism about their long hours. I heard less anger at politicians and more ideas for the future.

Maybe I have emigrant rose-tinted nostalgia glasses for Ireland. I know many people are unemployed and that I don’t have those worries. Perhaps I only see Ireland at its best. But something has definitely changed for the good. Let’s hope it continues because hard work, clever work and a warm welcome are the only things that can get us out of this mess. My trip home over Christmas made my hope of eventually going back to live there seem a little more realistic.

London-born Robert Coe moved to Dublin in 1971 when he got a job as technical development manager for The Irish Times . He moved back to Brighton in 2004 with his late wife, but his family still lives in Dublin

I go back to Dublin every three or four months to visit my two sons, my daughter and four grandchildren. I get an Irish old-age pension, which I spend in Ireland because I want to keep that money in the country. I let it build up for a couple of months, until I have enough to go back again.

While in Ireland over Christmas, I found my families putting on a brave face, but then, it was Christmas after all. The people I met while I was back felt the way we all do when we are faced with bad news. “Why me? Why us? What did we do to deserve all this? We worked hard for our money and our loved ones and families.”

On the day I arrived back for Christmas, I went down to the local pub in Glasthule with my son and his friends, and it was like I had never left. But some of the lads no longer have a job, and some are owed money. The chatter in the pub, normally happy and noisy, was somewhat subdued.

Seeing all the empty houses and flats is sad, but things aren’t as bad in Ireland as they were in previous recessions I lived through there. I have been amazed to see all the changes that have taken place in infrastructure over the past few years, which will really help when Ireland picks itself up again in the future. The Luas is very good and the new motorways are fantastic.

I am keeping a very careful eye on things in Ireland now. I have got used to living in England, but when stability returns to the euro zone, I hope to move back to Ireland.

I am happy enough here, but I am a little lonely. If I was back in Ireland, I would never be at home in the evenings – I could be out every night. I enjoyed catching up when I was back over Christmas. Having lived in Dublin for some 33 happy years and knowing the indomitable spirit of the Irish people, I am convinced they will get through this hiccup.

Reader comments: ‘Great to be home. Now get me the hell out of here again’

Benny Joyce : Depressing, depressing, depressing.

David Keane : Whilst no doubt there are those who are struggling, generally speaking people were spending. So much for being broke!

Michael Curran: I was struck by the tolerance of the situation by the public, of their acceptance that things were the way they had to be, struck by the absence of any serious consideration of more drastic solutions.

Shane : The weather in Galway was appalling, as usual. I don’t think a question about wanting to move back is particularly relevant – we can’t come back, there’s nothing to come back to.

Simon: Quality of service was wonderful. Value for money was much much better than anytime in the last seven years. There has been a huge change in the attitude towards work. Brilliant!

Eamon McL : Depressing, cold, dark, miserable, expensive, wet, nanny-state, taxed to death, deprived of hope, no inspiration or leadership present, second-rate education system, rampant begrudgery, repressed sexuality, cute hoorism, snobbery, dishonesty, victim complexes, woe is me-ism, sheep mentality, gossiping, delusional, self-indulgent, alcoholic, bad breath, upstart jobsworths everywhere.

Alan : People still salute each other and will strike up a conversation at the supermarket. Living in France you just don’t get that.

Fergal: It was a great Christmas. Great to be home. Now get me the hell out of here again.

Niamh: I’ve been away since 1992 and will never return other than to visit family. I can excuse the weather as there is no control over that, but the small-mindedness, the begrudgery the gossiping and the “poor me” syndrome is just jaw-dropping. Wake up Ireland.

Jean: Wonderful! Had a great time. People are so friendly – it’s lovely to be greeted by a stranger on the street.

Gerry : Back in Galway for the Christmas – was struck by the fact that the country appeared to be wall-to-wall Jedward.

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