'It's difficult to emigrate, but moving home is harder'
I never intended to stay away from Ireland for so long. I don’t think most emigrants do when they first take flight.
After 30 years abroad, I’m packing my life into boxes in Boston. I’ve just closed the sale on an apartment in Carrickmines three miles from where I grew up, my cat Danny Boy has his shots, our flights are booked for next month, and in my mind I’m almost home.
The decision to move back was not an impulsive one. It took years to germinate, and by now, although I’m scared, I have faith I am doing the right thing.
I was 23 in 1983 when the Jordanian national airline came to Dublin to recruit Irish air hostesses. I couldn’t pinpoint Jordan on a map but it sounded exotic, and I was young and bored with Dublin. I went to the interviews with a friend and we were offered jobs that same day.
Within a year, I had been seconded to the Royal Jordanian Air Force to fly with the royal family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, which took me all over the world for six wonderful years.
It was a difficult decision to leave that jet-setting life behind, but as I reached my 30th birthday I felt ready to settle, and took a job in technology marketing in London. Having lived in the Middle East for most of the 1980s it was quite a culture shock to be working in the heart of such a cosmopolitan city, but life was frenetic and fun, and much more free than my lifestyle had been in Jordan.
London was my home for nearly 16 years, interrupted only by a six-month stint in South Africa with my now ex-husband. With a painful divorce still fresh, I had no hesitation in accepting a transfer to Boston in 2006 with the start-up technology company I was working for. Workwise, there are incredible opportunities in the US, and I have made some very close friends here. The seasons are beautifully distinct, and the predictable weather means it is possible to plan a ski trip in winter or a day on the beach in the summer without having to bring a brolly.
But with no children or immediate family, I have felt quite alone. I miss the craic at home, the sense of humour, the people, the culture – I have never found the likes of it anywhere else. From the minute I step off the aircraft in Dublin Airport I hear it and feel it. Leaving after trips home has become more and more difficult as the years have slipped by.
I listen to Irish radio and read The Irish Times online every day, making notes of places mentioned or events that interest me. There is much of Ireland I have never seen, but the internet has helped me to learn more about it and keep up with what has changed since I left; I won’t be coming home to a totally unfamiliar place.
A lot of the Irish girls I worked with in the Middle East never made it back to Ireland. And I have no close friends left in Dublin. Starting a new social life from scratch will be a challenge, though I have done it several times before. The internet makes things easier these days, with hundreds of online groups for people like me looking to meet new people.
I have already joined a running club in Dún Laoghaire, and met up with them on my last trip to Dublin in November.
I am yearning to explore the country where I’m from but never really got to know. I want to be able to get in my car and drive north to Donegal, where I have never been, or put on my hiking boots and walk the Wicklow Way.
My sister and brother both live in Dublin, as does my mum who is relatively young and in good health. Living in Ireland will give me the freedom to take her away for weekends, or call in for tea on a whim; to spend quality time with her now rather than getting the call that so many emigrants dread, to come home when she’s on her deathbed.
At a time when so many others are leaving Ireland in search of work, I know I am coming back at a difficult time – finding work will be the biggest challenge of all. Technology companies are hiring in Ireland, but they seem to favour young employees.
For the past four years I’ve worked for myself, so I know networking will be key. I’m thinking of business opportunities to help me generate my own income too.
People say it is difficult to emigrate but for me, going back home will be the hardest move of all. I left Ireland full of youthful excitement and although I left some good friends behind me in London, I always assumed the time would come when I’d be back to live there again.
The past month has been a very emotional time. I thought I had dissociated myself from Boston over the last few years as I was making the decision to leave, but as my departure gets closer I am realising how much I am going to miss the US and the friends I have made here.
They keep saying “sure you can always come back if it doesn’t work out”.
But that won’t happen. I am older now, I know this will be the last move I will make.
While it’s difficult trying to push upstream through the negativity that is so pervasive in Ireland at the moment, I’m staying positive and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead. I can’t spend the rest of my life living in a place I don’t call “home”.
In conversation with
CIARA KENNY irishtimes.com/blogs/generationemigration/