Irish artists spreading their wings overseas: ‘We were just tired of a lack of security’

Una Mullally spoke to artists who felt they had to leave Dublin while author BM Carroll writes about moving from Cork to Sydney in the 1990s

This month, we heard from some Irish artists about how they struggled to make a living in Dublin and decided to move elsewhere. Una Mullally spoke with people who chose to emigrate for various reasons – asking the one underlying question, why make such a change? Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, who moved to Berlin, said “we were also just tired of a lack of security, and bleeding money” while Ciaran Gaffney felt “knowing I had to say goodbye to Dublin made my relationship with the city more fraught, purely because the city wasn’t giving back to me or giving me the resources I needed”. The answers were connected by the common thread that Ireland was not providing the resources that its people needed.

Valerie Vahey tells a different story, based in the sunny hills of France. She paints a picture of Douarnenez, a seaside town “with several ports and some beautiful beaches”; this is a far cry from what she left behind in Ireland. Valerie lives right by the sea in France. She saw “an advertisement for a shop for €40,000 in Douarnenez on the internet on a Thursday, arranged an appointment to see the place on the following Monday and bought it that Tuesday”. The fixer-upper presented its own difficulties, leaving Valerie spending more money to try to turn it into a liveable space. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said.

Author BM Carroll moved from Cork to Sydney in the 1990s and according to her “there was no comparison”. Even though it was the same era, Sydney offered a freedom that they didn’t have in Ireland. “There were constant invitations to house parties, to pubs, to barbecues in the park – stranger danger wasn’t in our vocabulary.” While Carroll reflects on this time as a great experience, years later when her own children went to travel to Europe from Australia “I never want my children to do anything like it. Because now the shoe is on the other foot.” Carroll describes that although she remembers travelling abroad with fondness when her own children travelled to Europe she “didn’t sleep for a month”. When her children returned home, Carroll could “acknowledge that their trip – just like mine – was liberating, fun and a wonderful coming of age”.

Cormac O’Donnell gives us a glimpse into life in Dubai and celebrating Eid-el-Fitr. It is a celebration marked in Islam “as the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan”. O’Donnell paints a picture of the number of days as he and his family took time to celebrate the holiday.


Corkonian Brendan McGinn tells the story of his family emigrating to Providence, Rhode Island. Despite its flaws, he sees America as the land of opportunity for most people, “I have met countless guys out here who left Ireland when they were 18 or 19 and are now in a position financially they never thought was possible at home”. The benefits seem to outweigh the downsides of his family’s decision to live abroad; his children are bilingual and closer to their grandparents. However, there are parts of Ireland he still misses though, like “the big breakfast roll” and “those long easy-going summer days when it stays bright until after 10pm”.

Mary de Sousa says “It’s a strange and sometimes wonderful thing to be neither here nor there” in her piece about growing up with a father from Goa and a mother from Dublin. She tells the story of how her parents met in London and then chose to move to Coventry. De Sousa remembers trips back to Ireland “marvelling at how many people I was related to in places I had never heard of”.

In our business section, we regularly speak to Irish people who’ve made their living overseas in the Wild Geese column. This month, we spoke to Isla Gordon stumbled on a new career, and more besides, in the vineyards of New Zealand before settling in France. We also heard from Stephen Place who runs a high-end concierge service in Malta.

If you live overseas and have a story you would like to share with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.

You’ll find plenty more stories by and about the Irish diaspora that you might have missed over the past few months on irishtimes.com/abroad.

Thanks for reading.