Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

“I got homesick. All I want is to be home in Ireland again”

Living in Australia on and off since 2007, Darren Gaffney found he missed home more, not less, as the years passed. So he ‘felt a huge weight lift’ after deciding to move back to Ireland for good next year.

Fri, Nov 25, 2011, 08:40


Darren Gaffney and Carol Farrell at the Twelve Apostles, in Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia

Living in Australia on and off since 2007, Darren Gaffney found he missed home more, not less, as the years passed. So he ‘felt a huge weight lift’ after deciding to move back to Ireland for good next year.

I’VE BEEN back and forth between Ireland and Australia three times over the past four years, and I have tried to make a good life for myself down under. A few of my Irish friends are marrying Australian girls and settling into long-term careers, and I could go down a similar path. But I’ve decided to turn my back on it all and go home in April.

My adventure started in 2007, when I went travelling with some friends for a year on an Australian working holiday visa. I spent some time working in an Irish bar in Melbourne and on a farm in Western Australia, and played some open mic-nights. It was a very easy 12 months, full of fun.

I had been working as an electrician for seven years before I left, when the economy was flying in Ireland. There was a huge amount of work at that time, and I thought I would be able to slip straight back into that life when I got home from travelling. We arrived back in the summer of 2008 to 60 days of consecutive rain. Lehman Brothers fell in September, and it soon became apparent that things weren’t going to be so easy after all.

After a difficult winter, I decided to go back to Australia when I was offered an electrician job in Darwin. After a few months I had my own van and tools, my electrical licence, and a nomination from the company I was working for, and had no problem getting permanent residency. At that stage, it felt like I could be there for a long time.

But I got homesick, and with the homesickness came dreams about Ireland.

Darren at Litchfield National Park, Northen Territory

I was very positive and happy most of the time otherwise, but after having these dreams I would wake up and my day would be totally disjointed and I couldn’t focus. I tried to combat this by keeping busy, but I just couldn’t shake it.

Having been home for six months I had re-bonded with my friends and family, and when those connections were broken again, I obviously found it difficult to get to grips with being so far away from everyone. I played the guitar, ukulele and harmonica with a band of friends at home. Music was a huge part of my social life that was almost completely missing from my life in Darwin.

I tried to stick it out there for as long as I could, but after 18 months, while I was home for a month’s holiday to be best man at a friend’s wedding, I decided to stay in Ireland. I just couldn’t leave. But the construction industry had completely collapsed by that stage and I couldn’t find work, and last April, after eight months on Social Welfare, I decided to give Australia one last shot.

This time I took my girlfriend, Carol, with me. I thought having someone close would make the move much easier, and we both got good jobs in Melbourne. But I started to become very impatient, and was losing my temper easily. Carol told me I was like a different person out here to who I was at home. Two months ago, she asked me if I wanted to go back, and as soon as she said it, I felt a huge weight lift. That was exactly what I wanted, and I’ve been walking on air since.

The thought of coming home with few job prospects makes me really nervous. We know we’re facing a tough time ahead. We’ve both decided to focus on courses on offer here for the remainder of our time, so we can take new knowledge back with us to Ireland. Carol’s a graphic designer and is looking to do an illustration course, and I am thinking of a solar install and design course. Renewable energy is an up-and-coming industry, and I am excited about the prospect of getting involved.

My mother cried down the phone when I told her I was coming back.

Because I am a resident here, she thought I would be gone for at least four or five years. She said to me “You’re Irish, you want to come home to your country, so just do it. It might be hard, but you’ll get by.”

Hitch-hiking in Central Queensland

That encouragement meant the world to me. She’s right: there aren’t many opportunities in Ireland at the moment, but you have more of a chance if you are willing to be adaptable.

I’ve certainly had an adventure here. There is natural beauty to be found everywhere, from the stunning coastlines to the arid national parks. But nothing compares to home, where I have all the support and friendship and family that I could ask for. I know you can’t get by on that alone, but for my own happiness, I think that is far more important than having a good job. I’m 29 now, which I know is still young, but these connections mean more to me as I get older.

I have friends at home without work at the moment, who feel anxiety because they are still living there while others have emigrated to sunnier places and seem to be having a great time for themselves. But emigration is not successful for everyone.

I’m in Melbourne and I’m working, and I know some people mightn’t have much sympathy for me, but all I want to do is come home, to be in Ireland again with my friends and my family, regardless of the employment opportunities. Life is too short.

In conversation with Ciara Kenny.