Ciara Kenny

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

Will we be able to come back?

As we form relationships abroad, move up the career ladder and think about buying property, we are increasingly becoming at home in the countries we live in, but many of us still plan to return to Ireland eventually. The question is will we be able to when the time comes, asks Fiona Sneyd.

Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 17:24


As we form relationships abroad, move up the career ladder and think about buying property, we are increasingly becoming at home in the countries we live in, but many of us still plan to return to Ireland eventually. The question is will we be able to when the time comes, asks Fiona Sneyd.

Fiona Sneyd in London

Like most of my friends and former classmates I was born in 1986. My generation grew up in a time where immigration rather than emigration was the norm, and mini tennis, summer camps, horse riding, new cars and garden decks came as standard. By the time we finished our government-funded degrees in 2008, things were drastically changing. Jobs for graduates were becoming scarce and graduate schemes were being cut. Four years on, a significant portion of my Trinity classmates are living abroad, a great deal here in London.

Curious to see what was going on in the minds of these young expats, in June I conducted a straw poll via my Facebook network to find out my generation’s reasons for being abroad and the lives they lead. The most significant finding was that not one of the 22 emigrants who responded felt they left Ireland out of “necessity”; 41 per cent left because they felt opportunities were better abroad, another 23 per cent left purely out of choice.

Secondly, almost everyone had been out of Ireland for more than one year, with more than a third gone over three years (shortly after my particular cohort graduated in 2008). The group surveyed are highly educated, with 43 per cent leaving with an undergraduate degree, an additional 33 per cent with a masters degree and a final 19 per cent with a PHD or professional qualification.

Of the 22 responses, ten are in London, but the rest are in places as diverse as Brisbane, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Boston and Hawaii. While many of us are in the traditional bases of London, New York and Sydney, it’s clear the wings have spread to more adventurous places too. Ten of the 22 respondents said they were in a relationship with a person who wasn’t Irish, suggesting strong integration with local communities. This seems different to immigrants in the years before who tended to remain together in Irish bubbles in places like New York and London.

As we form relationships with other expats or locals, move up the career ladder and think about buying property, we are increasingly becoming at home in the countries we live in…. Not just people who work there. In May I voted in the London elections to elect a new mayor, or keep Boris Johnson as it later turned out. Irish citizens are entitled to vote in all elections, and exercising that right is a indication of my desire to integrate into UK life.

London is where I pay my taxes, and as a result I think about things like what the government spends money on and if the authorities have a grip on crime. Last August as the riots raged all over London, my outrage felt just as strong as if those rioters were rampaging around Dublin. I love life in London, Irish people are treated just like anyone else, and Dublin feels like just another place on these isles. Living in London means that I can be in close contact with people from different periods of my life, I now count classmates from Trinity, classmates from DCU, friends from my semester abroad in Boston and colleagues from various roles.

After an extended working holiday in Dublin I am once again forced to re-evaluate living outside of Ireland. But the truth is if I left London now I would be leaving more than I would be going back to. I now have more close friends living in London than I do in Dublin, and there is something disconcerting about that. Every time I land back in Dublin Airport I am excited to be back, but leaving a few days later I am usually relieved to be returning to a place where things are significantly more positive. Some day soon I will likely exchange my pink Irish drivers licence for a UK one. That will mark a real turning point in my resident status here.

Most people who I’ve spoken to from my age group in London have broadly the same thoughts; they are happy not be in Ireland at this moment in time. All respondents agreed that they have an equal or better lifestyle than the same role in Ireland would give, with 41 per cent stating clearly they would not want to move back to Ireland even for their ideal job. 87 per cent are happy right where they are, with just one saying they would rather be in Ireland.

But as much as they love everything London offers, it’s not Ireland, and it’s not home and for some the yearn to go home lingers. The bond felt by the Irish abroad remains incredibly strong; drop into the Porterhouse in Covent Garden to watch a Leinster or Ireland rugby match and you’ll see how determined the London Irish are to remain close and connected with one another.

I believe there are two winners and one loser in all of this. The first winner is my generation who got a little push to spread their wings overseas after privileged Celtic Tiger childhoods. The second winner is the adoptive countries who have inherited batches of healthy, eager, well educated and skilled, hardworking cailini and buachailli looking for something better than an indefinite period on the dole in Ireland. In this country the NHS and finance sectors have benefited massively from this.

As I see it there’s just one loser; Ireland. She’s lost many of the best ever educated cohort and as the years pass, less and less will return. But the ties to home are still very strong and most people remain optimistic of a prosperous future in Ireland – two thirds of respondents to my survey said they expected to be back in Ireland eventually.

One respondent captured the feelings of most young Irish emigrants: “Living abroad in your twenties is probably the best thing anyone could do. Come back when you’re older for the serious stuff like family & kids – there’ll be enough time at home then.”

But the real question is, will the jobs be there when everyone wants to flock home?

The survey was conducted using in June 2012. Fiona blogs at


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