Ciara Kenny

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

Arriving back to Ireland as a visitor

Arriving at 4:30am this morning into Dublin from Boston and waiting for the first bus to Dundalk, Passport Control reminds me I’m now a visitor to Ireland, writes Seán Rogers.

Wed, Dec 7, 2011, 12:51


Arriving at 4:30am this morning into Dublin from Boston and waiting for the first bus to Dundalk, Passport Control reminds me I’m now a visitor to Ireland, writes Seán Rogers.

Seán with his family in Maine

Since my Irish passport was out of date in July I came into the country on a US passport. I thought it would be a strange experience but to be honest it felt very normal. After 23 years, the US is and feels like my home and I’m visiting Ireland. The visit to Ireland is a quick long weekend to visit my elderly parents but I need to be back on Wednesday to cover school pickups and the ice hockey board meeting.

My history is like many Irish graduates from the early 1980s  – followed the path of university graduation in 1984 with a BA and moved to Boston in ’85. Like many Irish undocumented I worked on building sites and generally had a good time.  The difference from then and now is that I see stories of more families, young and older moving out with school age children and to be honest it breaks my heart seeing the emotions portrayed in RTE’s recent documentaries “Arrivals and Departures”. I suppose it brings me back to what I felt at the time, yet most of the emotion was hidden in the typical Irish fashion. I know many friends back in the 80s who made the choice to stay but now with young families are rethinking the choices made.

It’s strange reading the articles on various individuals in this series as I see all the emotions I went through over various stages – from can’t wait to get home to a realization that I couldn’t waste ten years of my life waiting for a recovery.  What’s actually refreshing about all of this is for the first time, with new media channels, this reality and the effects on the broader community can be seen more clearly. While benefits and perks are being maintained for sectors of Irish society, the costs are clearly in view.  Families are torn apart and with this the fabric of many local communities.  The costs will be felt for years to come – emotional scars as well as the economic fallout.

My experience in the States has been mostly positive.  I read a slightly negative attitude to the States in this round of emigration letters that is probably due to the limited visas available compared to Australia and Canada, and also the healthcare situation in the US.  Massachusetts where I live attracts a large number of immigrants from around the globe and as such has well developed immigrant support networks including the Irish International Immigrant Center IIIC.  Massachusetts also has MassHealth which is in reality a state healthcare system. Access to excellent 24*7 emergency care within minutes is very important to a young family like mine.

With two children, ages 10 and 6, Cambridge MA is where I call home.  My wife Ruth is from Boston, which always helps with integration as you have an instant family network.  I work in the high tech startup sector which has weathered the recent downturn well but the nature of the business can be unstable. Ruth works as an architect downtown so we are comfortable with a home close to Harvard University and a short walk to multiple parks and museums.

So what can I say to Declan Murphy in Melbourne and Stephen Martin in Toronto, both with young families?  It will be difficult but mostly on the emotional side. Not being there for family occasions and the opportunity to meet members of your family on a regular basis will be hard.  Mostly this will not be understood by those around you and at home in Ireland.  With Ruth and I, having children 3000 miles from their grandparents and family was difficult. Also visits by relatives get fewer and you are expected to make the effort to visit Ireland. With two young children this gets harder and becomes a more expensive proposition. Also when relatives visit they tend not to understand the culture you live in and make constant derogatory comments about politics, education and the healthcare system. After a while you tend to quietly agree and move on.

But what can you look forward to?   World class education systems that are focused on a broader idea of what learning should be and full of community involvement from hiring teachers to principals. My youngest Henry, who is 6, has 20 in his class with 3 full time teachers. I drop him off each day in disbelief at the resources available to him within the school and the volunteers from the local universities in the after school programs.  On this alone we made a decision not to return during the boom times.  Both our children are on IEPs (Independent Education Programs) for dyslexia and dyspraxia. Both were diagnosed early and have had excellent learning support services from the age of 3.

Those emigrating with young families will have an easier time integrating as they will immediately connect with parents at school and will be drawn into the wider community more quickly than the younger or single Irish emigrants. This will expose them to new sports, new interests and to rich arts and cultural experiences.  My own experience here includes ice hockey, baseball, skiing, music and school arts and drama. At youth levels all these activities are run by volunteers and give immigrants an open opportunity to meet local residents and other immigrant families within their immediate communities.

So what is the tragedy of emigration? I see it and have experienced it firsthand. People putting their lives on hold until they return home – an event which may never happen.  I laugh at Ruth saying to me unless we met I would be living in a flat with a crate, a light bulb and TV.  I think there is some truth to this.  But the real tragedy to me is the loss of multiple future generations to Ireland – not only the emigrants but their children. It’s not only the current brain drain but the loss of future human capital.  My boys know of Ireland and have been there many times but their home is Cambridge MA and will probably be for a long time to come.