Ciara Kenny

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

I’ve made a life abroad, but it isn’t ‘home’

I’ve just returned to Zambia after a trip back to Ireland, and while my life is now “abroad”, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else will ever replace Ireland, with all its familiar sights and sounds, as my home, writes Ceire Sadlier.

Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 07:43


I’ve just returned to Zambia after a trip back to Ireland, and while my life is now “abroad”, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else will ever replace Ireland, with all its familiar sights and sounds, as my home, writes Ceire Sadlier.

Ceire Sadlier with husband Maurice and daughter Juno in Howth, Co Dublin

SOMEONE RECENTLY asked me, “Where’s home to you?” It was a simple question but I had to think about it for a minute. I’ve been in Zambia for four years now . . . home isn’t Zambia, is it? Oh, I don’t want this to be home. Nor do I want to be constantly pining after Ireland when I don’t know when I’ll be living there again, and never to think of the place that I am as home.

“Wherever my husband is,” I told her, leaving us both confused and unsatisfied.

That was only a few days before I made my latest trip to Ireland after 15 months of being deprived of it. “Heading home for your holidays, are you?” people asked.

Heading home. It makes me feel like years are anchored around trips to Ireland, like an oil-rig worker who is just getting through each day until the next time he can go home. It makes me feel very far away, unsettled, temporary.

Of course, this is the talk of a woman who has a case of the post-holiday blues having been greeted by a storm of albeit minor problems on her return to Zambian soil. Within a few weeks, when the problems start to seem a normal part of everyday life here, I won’t feel so far away and I’ll stop counting the days until our next trip home. I don’t want to feel like I am just getting on with it, as though all this time “away” has been some sort of purgatory. I want to enjoy being here, living here – but just not quite enough so that it becomes my home.

I do admit that, having been away from Ireland for over a year, I was overly starry-eyed and sentimental about our recent visit there and how much I wished we weren’t only going for a couple of weeks.

Obviously, the 24-hour-plus journey is a bit of a pain, but I do love the part when you get to the last airport departure gate for Dublin. I love seeing the big Irish heads on people, hearing the accents. In Amsterdam this time I watched an old-ish man sit up on a high table, hands curving around the edge, his short legs flopping back and forth like a bored but happy child.

I love to spot someone in the Heathrow terminal reading The Irish Times and see the familiar sights of dozens of pairs of Uggs, pink skin, bad hair, tracksuits with T-shirts tucked in, flat caps, GAA jerseys and fake tan. I love to earwig on the Oh. Moy. Gourd. stories and listen to an irate mother trying to punish her rowdy child. Even though some of it is cringeworthy, it just all feels so familiar.

Ceire and Juno with former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda

If you’re lucky, you’ll fly in over Howth Head. And everything is green and grey, green and grey. And that’s when I start to feel that I’m very nearly home.

Everything seems comfortable and familiar. The streets, the beaches, the wind, the water, the pub fronts, the signposts, the churches, the trains. The Five Lamps, Grafton Street, the Ring of Kerry, the thatched cottages of Adare village, the red and white pillars off Sandymount Strand. They are not just sights the way things are in Zambia to me; I feel a connection to them, a sense of ownership and they make me feel like I belong there.

Even the weather didn’t bother me on my most recent trip. The air was cool and fresh and the sudden spatterings of icy cold rain were just part of the place. The seasonality was refreshing.

Most of all, I loved being surrounded by Irish people. I loved to be able to overhear and understand what people were saying, both in terms of actually comprehending the words as well as being interested in and identifying with their conversation. Tall, barrel-chested men drinking 7UP out of tiny glasses and small, busy women scurrying through their days.

I was acutely aware of the claustrophobia, the recession, the thieves, the greyness, the dampness, the darkness, the tax, the scowls, the bitterness, the work, the depression. But it wasn’t all-encompassing. It still felt like home and it felt like the place I’d rather be.

“This isn’t the real Ireland,” people told me when I lamented about being so far away. “You’re only saying that because you’re on holidays.

“It’s not always like this. This is holiday Ireland. You don’t really want to move home, you’re better off where you are.”

I do wonder if they are right. Are we better off here in Zambia? Employment and good weather, yes. But home? No.


Ceire blogs about life in Zambia at


Readers’ comments: Where is home?

This week, Generation Emigration asked readers to reflect on their concept of “home”. Here is a selection of comments that were posted on the blog

It really annoys me whenever I am visiting Ireland I get asked: “When are you moving home?” What home? Galway, where my wife is from, a city that I love but I have never lived? Cork? The city I grew up in but feel increasingly alienated from each time I go back? I find that question an insult to the life that my wife and I have built together here – home at the moment is our apartment in Madrid. That will one day change, but it is our home.

– Jonathan

Home is London. I have friends, some family, a flat, pets. I have an established job and I’m studying too. I love it here. I like that you don’t have to be British to be a Londoner. I don’t feel particular affection for Dublin any more. A bit of nostalgia for when I was younger, that’s all. If I were to move again, it wouldn’t be to Ireland.

– Kelly Carroll

Home is: where you hang your hat, its where the heart is, where the job is, it’s where you know you will be secure and accepted. Home is where you don’t have to translate yourself continually. Home is a place within a place, with its colours, sights, sounds, smells and topography; home is people, their history, their stories, humour, the tone and sound of their voices. Home is a place that we don’t know until we leave it

– PatM

Home is where my Family are. Just because I can’t be there doesn’t make it any less of a home to me, it’s where I know I can always come back to and know that I’ll be greeted with a smile and a tear (from mum) and where I can always stay in times of need. I’ve been living in Australia for two years now. I’m sure I will call this place home someday and hope that the family I build will always think of it that way too. – Michael

I’m German, have lived in Ireland for the best part of nine years, currently live in London but will return to Ireland in a couple of months. Germany stopped being “home” when I moved away, it’s now the place I was born, grew up, where my family lives and where I go to visit old friends – nothing more. Ireland is where my strongest ties are at the moment, it’s where I’m happy to live, it’s home. – Claudia

Home is where your parents live when you’re younger and where your children live when you’re older. – BB

True home will always be Ireland. It is a country that let me and many in my generation down; it is too much of a struggle to try and live there now just because it is my home.

So although it has become like an annoying family member who I only need see on rare occasions; despite it helping me grow into the person I am with the outlook and attitude I have; as blood is thicker than water, I think Ireland will always be home.

– ManchesterIrish

To read more comments or post your own, see here.

This article appeared in today’s print edition of The Irish Times, and is on the main website here.