Ciara Kenny

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

Home and happy

I’ve just moved back to Ireland after two years in Australia, and found a country resilient and hopeful about the future, writes Ashley O’Toole.

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 08:59


I’ve just moved back to Ireland after two years in Australia, and found a country resilient and hopeful about the future, writes Ashley O’Toole.

Ashley in Sydney

I’ve just moved back home to Dublin after two and a half years in Australia. In the last of the three Australian cities I lived and worked in, Canberra, myself and my colleague Bernice from Killarney, Co Kerry read the Generation Emigration articles religiously over our first cups of tea of the day. We regularly teared up relating to the numerous accounts of the highs and lows of emigration and although we both knew how lucky we were to experience living in a country like Australia, neither of us could shake the homesickness. Like so many others. After two and a half years, I decided my time was done and booked the one way flight. And prepared myself for a reality slap.

The way people in Australia spoke to me about Ireland, it was as if they expected me to be putting crusts of bread in envelopes and posting them back to “the ones left at home”. Like Ireland is this desolate land full of tumbleweeds and old men hobbling around on sticks with tattered overcoats and a rope tied around their waist to hold up their slacks.

I was wiping a bar counter in Melbourne when I heard about the IMF bailout. The country had reached rock bottom. It was embarrassing pulling pints for customers as they jibed me about the latest news. And even more embarrassing for the Irish expats at the bar to chime in and arrogantly declare how they’re never going back to “that sh*thole”.

I didn’t echo their sentiments. I wasn’t going to shake my fist, curse the government and write the country off like someone in Croke Park who leaves before the end of the match because their team is losing. I remembered that before the recession and before the Celtic Tiger, there was always hardship. But we were still Ireland. We didn’t let hard times steal our identity. Ironically, it seems it was the Celtic Tiger that almost achieved that.


I also remembered that whenever I opened my mouth in Australia, people beamed at me and asked me where in Ireland I was from and how they’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. And what I really couldn’t forget was how sorely I missed “Irishness”. The banter, the self-deprecation, the brutal honesty, the stubbornness, the warm familiarity, the clannish-ness,the compassion, the love of everything “old school” and just the general attitude of “Ah….be grand like”. And of course I missed my family and friends. The bread and butter of happiness.

When I told my colleagues and friends in Canberra that I was leaving the job and the country to move back home, some of them asked me if I was insane moving back to a country in recession. “Recession or not,” I replied, “it’s still my home.” And I’m so happy to say, I was right. I was to discover that the mood was not dull and despairing as I thought it would have been. People are still out in restaurants and bars and wearing new clothes and going on holidays. And people are still in good form. Not even “ah I’m tippin along, we’ll muddle through” form. People are genuinely motivated and hopeful about the future. And the “Irishness” that I so missed and craved is alive and well. With an extra layer of identity reinforced by the hardship of the last few years.

Of course, the recession is still there lurking underneath the surface in the form of rejected mortgage applications and the rate of unemployment. There’s no denying the country is going through tough times. But the country has been through much worse than this. And at the end of the day, we were never a country which was defined by the state of our economy. Just look at our history- which is a long one, thanks to our endemic trait of resilience. If there is one thing that Ireland is good at, it’s being the underdog. And even though the country might be struggling to get back on its feet, it’s still mine. It’s still ours.

So to all the Irish spread across the world who read the Generation Emigration articles every morning and worry about the state of their home, I won’t lie to you. The recession is still here, like a guest who has worn out its welcome. But the country is getting there, and the best part of it, the national personality, is still going strong. It’s still gettin mass on a Sunday. It’s still force feeding you Barrys Tea and Superquinn sausages. It’s holding up signs with quotes from ‘The Snapper’ and ‘Father Ted’ at Euro 2012 and with a bit of luck it’ll dance that unwanted guest out of our country in the years to come with a wink and a smile.

Ireland. Regardless of economic circumstances. You were always there, and you will always be. As will we.