‘I’m looking forward to bringing up my family in Ireland’

Civil engineer Shane Walsh moved home to Limerick from Australia with his partner and daughter

Shane Walsh and his partner Stacey Skelly wanted their daughter Arya to have the kind of childhood they enjoyed.

Shane Walsh and his partner Stacey Skelly wanted their daughter Arya to have the kind of childhood they enjoyed.

 

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide (and in Ireland) for Irish construction workers. If you would like to share your own experience of moving abroad or returning home to work in construction, you can do so in our Irish Construction Workers and Emigration Survey.  

Two years after he had graduated from Limerick Institute of Technology with a degree in civil engineering, Shane Walsh was on an aircraft to Australia. It was 2007 and he had his working holiday visa in his pocket, intent on taking a year out to have fun.

Eight years later, he found himself still in Australia when his daughter was born – prompting a rethink. In 2015 the family returned to live in Limerick. The 34-year-old now lives in the village of Ardpatrick with his partner Stacey Skelly and their daughter Arya.

Why did you leave?

There was a bit of work in Ireland at the time but not a huge amount. A group of us went off on holidays expecting to have some fun and be back before our visas ran out. Two were back within a year, I stayed for eight years and one is still there.

Where did you go?

My first stop was Sydney, but I followed the work, so I got to see a lot of the country. I worked in Bateman’s Bay and Newcastle in New South Wales, then Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Chinchilla in Queensland. I worked for just three companies and all had Irish connections. The first three years I spent with Eco Civil, then WDS. My last four years, in Chinchilla, were with Murphy Pipe & Civil, a division of Murphy International.

What was it like working in Australia?

The hours could be very long and we started earlier. When I was in camp – which means outside of the towns or cities – we worked from 6.30am to 6.30pm for 21 days straight and then had a week off at the end. We earned more but it was expensive there. It was a trade off.

A lot of Irish people worked for Murphy’s and they had moved their families over there too. There was a good community and good morale. We were all in the same situation. If you were homesick, there were other people going through the same thing. People were very welcoming too – both Australian and Irish. Our daughter was born there and the care was second to none.

When did you come home to Ireland?

When our daughter was six months old, I started thinking that I’d like our kids to have the same upbringing we had when we were growing up. Irish people have a great work ethic as well as the gift of the gab. That can help to open doors for our kids in the future.

So we came back in May 2015. I’m from a large family with six kids and cousins to beat the band so I’m very glad we came back. My partner is from Leicester in England so she’s happy to live in Ireland for a change. When we were in Australia, we used to try to come home once a year, but it’s quite costly – even more so when you have children. We held a big Christening party for our daughter after we got back to see everybody.

Was it difficult to find work on your return?

I was lucky I had time on my side. We had bought a small house before coming home so I spent the first few months renovating that. In the meantime I spoke to two companies and ended up getting a job with the second one, Rossmore Civils, that October.

Did your experience overseas help you in finding work in Ireland?

It did. The scale and monetary value of the projects I did in Australia was much bigger. Internal progression was also encouraged. I wouldn’t have got that kind of experience here in 2005. Now you see some ads that say “Irish or UK experience needed”, but you have to sell yourself. Overseas experience definitely won’t work against you.

How does working in construction here compare to where you were overseas?

Well, we’re never going to put a roof over Ireland to stop the rain. Aside from that, it’s good not having to work on Saturdays here. Conditions were a bit ahead in Australia in some ways. In my position, for example, I got a vehicle and clothing handed to me on the first day - it was advertising for the company too. Only a lot of the larger or more established companies do that here. There were a lot of older Irish, Australian and New Zealand guys working there too who took the time to teach me all they could, and that made all the difference to me. I learnt a lot from them.

What kind of work are you doing now?

I’m a project manager on a public works car park contract in Ringaskiddy in Cork. My first project was a pharmaceutical groundworks package in Blanchardstown, and I was also managing a car park contract in Dublin Airport. Dublin is currently booming and there is some work in Cork too. Saying that though the rest of the country has a bit to catch up yet.

Do you think you would have had the same opportunities professionally if you had stayed in Ireland?

Not a hope. The opportunities I got there would not have happened here with the little experience I had coming straight from college. I would have been struggling to find work, fighting old, experienced guys for the same jobs.

Would you recommend going abroad for work?

I could not recommend it highly enough, even just to see how others do things. The attention to detail in Australia is hard to compare. You get a good schooling at work there.

What are your plans for the future?

My partner is pregnant so we are looking forward to bringing up our family in Ireland. I’d like to make a good living here.

What is your impression of the construction sector in Ireland?

Dublin is busy but down the country needs investment. It will take time. There is a shortage of civil engineers and quantity surveyors. The country needs to be made to seem more attractive to get people to come back home. We need to be attracting people back home not just asking them.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of moving home?

Think about what you want to do and plan accordingly. Look at your insurance, health insurance and accommodation. You will have to get in touch with social welfare and get a PPS number. Get it pushed through as soon as you can. We were very lucky as our health insurance company in Australia was Bupa, which is Laya Healthcare’s sister company. So we could move from one to the other, but that may not be the case for other companies.

To find a job, put the feelers out before you come home. I did that with friends and family. Starting drumming up interest before you make the move.

- In conversation with Rose Costello

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide (and in Ireland) for Irish construction workers. If you would like to share your own experience of moving abroad or returning home to work in construction, you can do so in our Irish Construction Workers and Emigration Survey.