‘I will never repeat the mistake of returning to Ireland’
Declan McSweeney is living in the UK again after a failed attempt to move his family back to Ireland
I have just marked the third anniversary of my return to Britain, and I have never for a moment regretted it, despite the ups and downs of trying to make a living here.
I spent more than 18 years reporting and subediting for the now closed Offaly Express newspaper. I thought I had a job for life and never envisaged leaving Tullamore. But family circumstances brought me to London, where I initially worked for the Romford Recorder before taking up a subediting post with Associated Press.
It was a job most journalists would jump at, working for one of the world’s top media firms in a fast-paced role, editing global news coming in on the wires. My office was the headquarters for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. About a third of my colleagues were American and a third British; the remainder were of numerous nationalities, skin colours and religious beliefs, from avowed atheists to devout Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.
Looking back, I can’t fathom how stupid I was to leave. I misread the climate in the company, believed redundancies were in the offing (they weren’t, as it turned out) and saw no option but to return to Ireland. When I returned to a job in Mullingar, the very thing I feared might happen in England occurred in Ireland. I was barely back when the economy crashed, and I got my redundancy notice on Christmas Eve 2008. I had some freelance work, but not enough to make a living, and was lucky to get some teaching work with Offaly’s VEC.
Returning home unnecessarily, and then being made redundant, caused a great deal of hardship to my family. If I had listened to them, and stayed in London, things would have been different.
In 2011 we returned to Britain, initially to Liverpool, where I retrained by doing a diploma in health and social care. I then found a job with a housing organisation in Manchester. People here have been very kind and welcoming. I have never encountered any anti-Irish feeling, although the lack of knowledge of the Irish media among some potential employers has been a barrier while job-hunting.
Manchester and Liverpool are quite different. Liverpool is a port city that has seen better days, but it is working hard to rebuild itself after decades of decline. Its links with Ireland are deep, and most people seem either to have some Irish ancestry or to have married into families that do. Manchester, by contrast, is an industrial city that grew to greatness in the Industrial Revolution. Greater Manchester is far larger and more spread out than Liverpool.
I am now used to the anonymity of large cities. I found that difficult when I first migrated, but now I prefer urban settings and found the three years back in Tullamore a challenge, although that is no reflection on the many kind people there.
Since returning to England, two events in Ireland have affected me deeply. The closure of the Offaly Express, in 2012, made me realise that, even if we had not left the first time, there was not going to be any work for me in Offaly long-term, and that there is now no going back.
More recently, the death of my brother Barry marked a further sundering of ties. As I look for more secure work, my job-hunting may take me to other parts of Britain, but I know I will never return to Ireland.
This article appears in Weekend Review today.