Ciara Kenny

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

‘It was terrible saying goodbye . . . it still hurts’

Hosting friends and family offers Irish emigrants the chance to reconnect with loved ones and show off the place they now call home, but saying goodbye can make the distance from Ireland more acutely felt than ever, writes CIARA KENNY

Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 08:22


Hosting friends and family offers Irish emigrants the chance to reconnect with loved ones and show off the place they now call home, but saying goodbye can make the distance from Ireland more acutely felt than ever, writes CIARA KENNY 

EMMA DONNELLY: ‘I was really proud to show off New Zealand and my life here’

Emma Donnelly (above) with her twin brother Philip and friend Colum Barrett at Millford Sound in New Zealand.

I AM REALLY close to my twin brother Philip. We went to different schools when we were growing up and lead quite independent lives, but as soon as I arrived in Wellington last year I really sensed his absence. I really really missed him. He was still at home living his life and I was half way across the world starting a new life of my own with my boyfriend.

I had been here for six months when he emailed to say he was coming to see me. His best friend lives in Australia, and was planning a trip to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup with his father and brother, who would be travelling from Ireland. I was ecstatic, because I thought it would take at least a year before he would have the opportunity to visit.

I hadn’t seen New Zealand at all before he came over, because I had started working straight away and didn’t feel I could take any time off while I was settling in. In hindsight, Philip probably would have gotten more out of his trip if he had come over when I had seen more of the country and had more knowledge, but at the time those technicalities were irrelevant.

The World Cup was still going strong when he was here and the atmosphere was reflective of this. Kiwis are always extremely welcoming and fun people, but with the World Cup taking place their hospitality was amazing.We travelled all over the north and south island, as well as spending a week in Sydney. I was really proud to show off New Zealand and my life here.

While he was here I didn’t even think about the fact he would have to leave again, I just enjoyed his company and had fun. Saying goodbye was very hard. Given the chance I would have hopped on the plane with him back to Ireland.

Sitting in my house in Wellington the day he left, I couldn’t believe he was on a 30-hour trip back to Dublin and I was staying. It highlighted my current position on the map, and the enormous space I had placed between myself and my friends and family. We had kept in touch a lot through Facebook and Skype, and I hadn’t been away that long, but it was only at the airport when saying goodbye that I felt the distance from home for the first time.

Since Philip left, I’ve been much more observant of everything I’m shown, thinking about what he’d like to see if he comes over again, or what I would show other visitors from Ireland.

LINDA DOYLE: ‘It was terrible saying goodbye, worse than the first time when we were leaving’

Linda's daughter Chloe and mother Betty O'Brien during Betty's visit to Winnipeg

MYSELF AND MY mother Betty were extremely close before I moved to Winnipeg in Canada with my family last year. We spent a lot of time together and she was actively involved on a daily basis with our three kids. It was so difficult to tell her that we were planning to leave Ireland and make a new life for ourselves here, but at the time it didn’t feel like we had a choice.

She is still very young at heart and loves travelling, so we told her she would be welcome to come over any time she wanted. That was the only way we felt happy about moving . . . knowing she would be coming to visit.

She came in February for almost a month. She had a wonderful time, we all did. The biggest shock to her was how vast it is. She was surprised how grown up the kids had gotten too, especially our youngest son who is five now and had changed a lot. Our older son, who is 11, and daughter, who is 14, especially loved having her here.

It was terrible saying goodbye, worse than the first time when we were the ones leaving. It still hurts. It was very hard for the kids too, because they had been so close to her, for her to come over for such a short period of time and then turn around and go back again.

She’s planning to come over again at Christmas, which is keeping us all going for the moment.

Making the move from Ireland to Canada was the hardest thing our family has ever had to do. The most difficult thing of all about leaving your home country when you have a family is that your kids will grow up without their aunts, uncles, cousins, grannies and granddads. But you just have to get on with things. I am blessed that my mother is able to travel, because I know not every emigrant has that, when parents get too old. I don’t think I could have made the move if I thought she wouldn’t have been able to come to visit us.

KARL O’DOHERTY: ‘It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be tourists in what has become our home city’

Karl O'Doherty is pictured with Leone Fitzgerald and Trudi Murray, who were staying with him in London last week

I MOVED TO London in January 2011 when a rejection letter from McDonald’s spurred me on to book a one-way ticket on a bus to London. It has been great so far. I am fortunate enough to live with friends from home and though I miss Ireland, having them around has cushioned the blow of leaving the country.

Our extended network of friends and family is large and we have had plenty of visitors over the past few months, including parents, siblings, cousins, friends, college mates, friends of friends and one charming randomer. When each of us arrived first we had friends to stay with for a while who helped us to find our feet, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be in a position now to offer the same hospitality to others who are coming over.

It’s always fun trying to make their first few days or weeks as enjoyable as possible.

For those here on holiday, it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be tourists in what has now become our home city. I’ve seen museums, plays, parks and a lot of excellent parts of London that are hidden in the normal run of things when passing through the city underground to get to and from work every day.

At the moment we have a friend and the sister of one of my housemates staying with us while they work in the city and hopefully they’ve been having a good time.

Having a guest from home, no matter how long they stay, reaffirms a connection with Ireland that Facebook and Skype can’t quite offer. There is a solid network of friends and family in Ireland that have not forgotten about you just because you have moved, and visits remind us of that.

Each time they go home to Ireland or move on from us, it reminds us that we have had to move from our own country to a foreign place, though luckily it is still very near home. I rarely get homesick, but every time a visitor leaves to go back home to Ireland, the second the door shuts or they get on the airport train, it’s a wrench to not want to rush and pack a bag to go home with them.

ANNA DEMPSEY: ‘It really reminded me of family holidays we had as kids in Ireland’

Anna Dempsey (right) with mother Grainne and father Seán in front of the Sydney Opera House last week

MY PARENTS HAVE been here in Sydney for six weeks, staying with my brother Mark, his Australian wife Elaine and their two kids who live in the northern suburbs. My mum works in a national school in Dublin and my dad is semi-retired, so the summer is the perfect time for them to take a long trip like this.

Mark and Elaine have been living in Sydney since 2003. We all travelled out as a family for their wedding in 2007 and I stayed for the year on a working holiday visa. Towards the end of the year I met my partner who lives in Sydney. We had a long-distance relationship for a few years after I moved back to Dublin, before I returned to Australia on a partner visa last November.

It is difficult for my parents. Since I moved here the family has been divided into two sets of kids, two at home and two in Sydney. My three siblings have children of their own, and my parents want to have a meaningful role in their lives. The trip was an opportunity for them to spend time with their grandchildren, but also to catch up with myself and Mark too, and to make sure I was settling in ok.

I’m in the middle of applying for a new visa, and it was difficult to balance that with seeing them and working at the same time, but I was able to take a day off every week to add to the weekends and some extra unpaid leave.

Rather than travelling somewhere interstate with six adults and two small kids we opted to spend time together over the course of a few day trips.

Last week we all went out to Palm Beach and took a ferry from there to a little inlet attached to Ku-ring-gai National Park (north of Sydney). There was wildlife everywhere, and we had the place to ourselves. We loved it so much that we went back the following day and did the exact same thing. It really reminded me of family holidays we had as kids in Ireland when we went to Carraroe in Connemara.

My parents are leaving this week and it is very hard to prepare for that, because we know it is going to be such a long time until we see each other again. We hope to alternate between us going home and them coming over here, so we get to see each other at least once a year. These trips keep the family connected.