Coming home to a different country
Returning to Ireland after 30 years abroad has been a complicated experience for Clare Waldron
In February last year I made the momentous decision to move home to Dublin after 30 years abroad. Living back in my old neighbourhood, it feels sometimes like I never left. In other ways I’m a complete alien.
Just before I left I did an interview with The Irish Times, explaining that I didn’t want to grow old in the US with no family around me. I was divorced 10 years ago and have no children, and being alone over there was not a sustainable option for the future.
The pull back to Ireland was strong, and every time I came home for a holiday it was getting harder and harder to leave.
As ready as I thought I was, it was desperately difficult saying goodbye to Boston and to my dear friends. Sometimes you don’t know how much you are loved until you leave. I got on the plane with my cat in the hold and cried halfway across the Atlantic.
But as soon as I landed the excitement set in. Everything was a novelty. I was the new girl in town, and everything was strange. Simple things, like using a shopping cart in Dunnes Stores, was an adventure; I couldn’t believe you had to pay and had no clue where to put the money. I had no idea when banks and post offices were open, or what normal shopping hours were.
I deliberately delayed applying for jobs and enjoyed the summer exploring Dublin. I walked the length and breadth of the city, wandering along the canals and taking photographs of all the new squares and buildings.
My eyes pop out of my head when I walk around places like Fade Street and see all the great new bars and restaurants. The centre of Dublin could be any other major city in the world. It’s so cosmopolitan. Dublin in 1982 was a very different place.
The biggest opportunity that coming home has afforded me is time with my mum, who celebrated her 80th birthday in February. We have got to know each other so well over the past year, and being there for her has meant a lot to me.
The other great thing is the craic. There is no other place in the world where I laugh like I laugh here. Irish people have a sarcastic, irreverent, crazy sense of humour, and I had missed that. To this day it feeds my soul.
I got a job very quickly, which was a pleasant surprise after all the negativity I had been reading about the Irish economy. I’m now working in marketing for Novell, a software company, in Leopardstown in south Dublin, about a mile from where I grew up.
The place where my office is, now a densely populated industrial estate, used to be stables beside a reservoir. It is surreal. After living in Jordan, London, South Africa and the US, at 53 I’m back on the same piece of land where I used to hunt for tadpoles as a kid.
I had a sort of bucket list of things I wanted to experience coming back to Ireland, and I’m happy to have ticked many boxes. I’ve seen a hurling match at Croker, and I’ve visited Donegal for the first time. Best of all was being able to cheer my godson Daniel’s rugby team to victory in the under-17s Leinster Cup at the Aviva Stadium.
But it hasn’t all been easy. The weather has been a shock. I knew it rained in Ireland, but I had forgotten how much, or didn’t anticipate the impact the dampness would have on me. In Boston it snowed a lot, but the sun shone year round.
I miss the sense of open space in the United States. You have to go some way out of Dublin to find solitude, and I hadn’t anticipated that.
I wouldn’t have thought it, but Ireland is way behind the US in terms of technology, which has been frustrating at times. In the United States we use our phones for everything, right down to paying for a coffee at Starbucks, but here places insist on having everything printed out.
I have felt lonely, too. I had to come off Facebook because it was making me upset to see posts by my Boston friends, talking about doing bootcamp on the boardwalk or going running together. Though I’ve met some lovely people since moving back, I really miss having close friends around me.
I have no girlfriends left in Ireland now as many of the women I grew up with moved abroad over the years. I was excited before I came home about joining clubs and forming a new social circle, but I don’t have as much energy for making friends as I used to. I have a lot of friends already; they just don’t live here. I’m coming to terms with that.
But I have been blessed the move has gone so well overall. I bought my apartment at the very bottom of the market, a place that would have cost twice as much a few years previously. Looking out my huge window, from where I can see the Sugar Loaf, reminds me of the reasons why I moved “home”.
The gloss may have worn off a little, but I’m still happy I came back. I said when I was leaving the United States that I had no more moves in me, but now I am not so sure. I would never say never again.
I don’t feel fully integrated here yet, and maybe I never will. Perhaps I’ll always be the expatriate who has come home to a different country.
- In conversation with Ciara Kenny
This article appears in Weekend Review today. Read Clare Waldron’s pre-departure interview, ‘It’s difficult to emigrate, but moving home is harder’