Ciara Kenny

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

‘I miss an Ireland that does not exist’

Vincent Morrissey went to Australia in 2001 for love. But 10 years later, a lot has changed, and the call of home is growing stronger.

Fri, Feb 3, 2012, 08:08


There is no master plan: Vincent Morrissey, who has lived in Australia for 10 years, on holiday in Cape Town

Vincent Morrissey went to Australia in 2001 for love. But 10 years later, a lot has changed, and the call of home is growing stronger.

SO MANY young people leaving Ireland today, my emigration story started with a year backpacking around Australia in 2001. I went on my own and had a great time, travelling around the country by motorbike and working on sheep stations along the way.

Cairns was the last stop on the trip, and while there I met a lovely Australian girl. We fell in love and she moved back to Ireland with me while I finished my diploma in electronics.

A year later, we went back to Australia to start our life together. I had never really thought about the difference between emigrating and travelling until it dawned on me that we were planning to settle there.

Home suddenly felt like a long way away, but I always thought I would be back in Ireland in four or five years’ time.

My relationship began to fall apart a few years later, and my health suffered. I was drinking and smoking a lot, and my weight ballooned. I began to recognise how alone I was here, and I found it difficult to make friends of my own. I had never realised how trusting and nice Irish people were until that time.

I needed a radical change in my life, and decided to start by getting fit.

I had a good pair of legs for cycling, so I joined a cycling club. Within a year, I had given up the cigarettes and had lost 22kg. A year after that I raced bicycles at the highest local level. I had never been a sporting person before but I made lots of friends and we raced all over the state and I had a ball. Since then, I have been cycling up to 500km every week.

My partner and I separated amicably, and I decided to go back to visit Ireland for the first time in five years. It was tough coming back to Oz to live alone, and I had had enough of the job I was in, but the recession was looming in Ireland then and I had no choice but to go back to Australia.

I left my job of four years and moved to a completely new city. I didn’t know anyone, but got the job of my dreams doing very technical and challenging work. I joined a new cycling club and settled well, but six months later I became very ill and remained so for almost two years.

Chronic fatigue, they said.

I took up paragliding and kept active, and I’m almost better again, but it’s been a long road without family support. The phone and Skype are well and good, but not the same as having family close.

I can afford to go back to Ireland more often now, and in the past year I have been back twice to visit sick relatives. Being so far away from home when people in your family are sick is very hard. I got a phone call one day to say my granny had died, and I couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral. Those things weigh on me.

The women I’ve dated over the past four years have also suffered, because I cannot commit to a relationship. I am at the age where I am dating people who want to settle down and have babies, but if I start a family here then that is it, I will be here for good. I wouldn’t be able to fly a wife and three kids back to Ireland for a holiday every year.

In some ways, I have had a fantastic experience in Australia. I am trying my best to do adventurous things and take advantage of what is on offer here while I can. It is very hard to plan for the future. I am grateful to have a job doing something that I am good at and enjoy, which many people don’t have in Ireland. My dad is working a three-day week, and my mum, who lives in the UK, was recently made redundant. I’ll keep going as I am for the time being, but there is no master plan. I don’t see a way out.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the people who are leaving Ireland now eventually want to go home in five or six years’ time. Will they be able to return? I headed off with the same mentality, that I could do what I wanted and have an adventure while I was young. But young emigrants have to be aware that a time will come when you will want to settle down, and it can be hard to get back to the place where you want to be.

When you get to your 30s, emigration is not a lifestyle choice, as Michael Noonan would like to think. I’m 33 now, and it is 10 years since I left. I live in a rented room in a shared house. I’m single again. I have all the toys – a paraglider, motorbike, mountain bikes and a big TV – but nothing can fill the void left by home.

I miss an Ireland that does not exist any more. I recently went back for a holiday and everyone I knew was gone. But I still miss it. I miss belonging to a culture that, however good or bad, is still mine.

In conversation with CIARA KENNY.