Generation at sea when families emigrate
As more young families move abroad, grandparents strive to stay connected, writes SHEILA WAYMAN
ALAN AND Caroline Foster sometimes wonder why they are still living in Co Wicklow when all their grandchildren are living abroad.
“It is very difficult,” says Alan. “I am in my 70s and my wife is in her late 60s. We talk about selling up and going but I don’t think it is really a possibility.”
While Alan has been retired for 15 years, the couple have busy lives looking after their house and large garden in Kilquade. “Our friends are important to us,” says Caroline.
They have two sons and three grandchildren in New Zealand; their only daughter, Lydia, lives in Spain and is expecting her first child in December, while their other son, Duncan, lives in Carlingford, Co Louth, and does not have any children.
“We gave them wings to fly but we didn’t expect them to fly so far,” says Alan.
“It is what they chose to do and you have to go along with that,” says Caroline. So she and Alan try to visit them when they can.
Their youngest son, Glynn, left Ireland in 2003 and is married to a New Zealander, Jayne. They have one child, Isla (two), with another baby due in February. The other son in New Zealand, Tim, and his wife, Barbara Wilson from Co Antrim, had been living in Raheny, Dublin, and they left for Wellington in 2010 with Ella and Calum, now aged six and four.
“We got out three times in the last four years so that is not too bad,” says Alan. “But we have no plans to go out in 2013, possibly in 2014 . . .
“Unless we win the Lotto,” says Caroline.
Free travel within Ireland may be a very welcome perk for pensioners but it is subsidised airfares that long-distance grandparents like the Fosters need. Emigration of young families is one of the features of this current recession, with the older generation left behind trying to maintain a connection with their beloved grandchildren through Skype, the phone, the post and the occasional visit.
Every time the Fosters go to New Zealand, combined with a stop in Australia where Caroline’s sister lives, they need to budget for about €8,000 to €10,000, for a four- to six-week trip.
Ella remembered them all right when they first went out and they keep the relationship going mainly through Skype.
“I am not an indulgent granny,” says Caroline, “but I like to send out something small occasionally. Barbara is very good in that she will tell me what the children are interested in. And she occasionally sends me an envelope of the children’s drawings, which I have up in the kitchen so I see them every day.”
At least Spain is a lot cheaper to get to and the Fosters are going there next month and hope to go out again after Christmas to see the baby.
The countdown to Christmas family reunions is on in many homes a hemisphere apart, including those of Mary Foran O’Halloran in Co Kerry and her eldest child in Australia. Mary found it very hard when Jenny emigrated to Perth last January with her partner David Boyle and their two children, Matthew (seven) and Luke (four) – Mary’s only grandchildren.
“I miss them a fright,” she says. Jenny (29) had never actually lived away from the family home in Ballyheigue outside Tralee. She studied accountancy in the town and then she and David rented out a house they had bought there – to help pay the mortgage when his work as a mechanic started drying up – and moved into a chalet in her parents’ back yard.
Mary, a mother of five children ranging from Jenny down to nine-year-old Jimmy, was worried about how her grandsons, “country kids”, would take to their new life, especially Matthew who had been very close to Jimmy. But from her daily phone calls, Mary knows that the children have settled well and Matthew, who chats away on the phone to her and Skypes with Jimmy, is enjoying school.
“I know myself they did the right thing and that’s what makes it easier,” says Mary. “There would not have been anything here for them if they had stayed.”
Several other young families in the area have headed out to Perth, she explains, so Jenny is happy to have some friends from home.
“They have a brilliant lifestyle over there and it is a lot healthier. I can’t see them coming back – at least not for a good long time.”