Ciara Kenny

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

The time of year when home seems very far away

CIARA KENNY found out how the Irish abroad will spend Christmas this year

Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 08:37


CIARA KENNY found out how the Irish abroad will spend Christmas this year

Alan Keane (left), with friends Louise O'Sullivan (recently returned from Bangkok), Shane Clifford and Kevin Bourke (both of whom are teaching in South Korea).


On December 28th, a group of us will meet in a Limerick bar, just a stone’s throw from the university we graduated from last August. A Facebook invite has taken the place of the Star of Bethlehem in this modern Christmas tale. We’ll come from near and far: Dublin, Edinburgh, London, and even Korea.

It will be more than a meeting of old friends. It will be one in the eye for the recession that, for 364 days of the year, keeps us apart. We’ll seek familiar faces in the crowded bar, the joy of reunion displayed in tears, laughter, hugs and pats on the back. We’re home.

Ten stories will be told at once, many of which have already been shared via Skype or Facebook but mean much more when we’re face-to-face.

Those spending their Christmas in the Far East, on Australian beaches or in Canadian cities won’t be forgotten.

I’ll sit among my friends and inwardly wonder, what does 2013 have in store? Will I spend next Christmas half a world away from here? I’ll shrug away these questions as I shrug on my jacket. There is a far more pressing matter at hand. Which bar next? As closing-time approaches it will be as though the last 16 months never happened, as if none of us have joined the rat race, the dole queue, or the masses leaving this country in search of a better life.

Morning will bring cold reality and hot tea. Friends will slip away from the hotel one by one, without any big goodbyes.

We can’t predict how 2013 will pan out, but we’ll content ourselves with the knowledge that we’ve ended 2012 in good company.

FLYING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: Samantha Carpenter (26)

On the plane from London, I’ll be among hundreds of other emigrants returning to spend Christmas in Ireland. Everyone will be in a great mood, a little more drink will be consumed than usual, and when we touch down, there’ll be a round of applause because we know we are finally home and the holidays can begin.

My grand-dad used to work in Dublin Airport and I spent a lot of time there as a child. For me, it is still one of the best places to be at Christmas. Everyone is so friendly, right down to the guys at passport control who always say “welcome home”.

I’ll stay with my grandparents in Glasnevin. They are quite elderly and can’t come to collect me any more, but I still feel overwhelming happiness when I walk through the arrival gates and see the decorations and the smiling faces as people are reunited with their loved ones.

Superquinn sausages are a huge treat on Christmas morning, served with thick slices of proper brown soda bread with real butter, which is hard to find in London. I don’t go to Mass any other day of the year, but I look forward to it at Christmas.

What I love most is that sense of relaxation when you arrive back in Dublin, where the pace of life is less frenetic than London. I’m looking forward to the pretty lights on Grafton Street, having hot chocolate in Butler’s Café, and catching up with friends over drinks.

Just two people from my class in Trinity are still living in Ireland, but most of us will be home for Christmas. I can’t wait.


Diarmuid Ó Loing with Genna Greene in Western Australia.

This will be my second year cooking a big dinner for our Irish and Aussie friends in Perth. Last year there were 13 of us but there will be even more this Christmas. We’ll all eat in my back garden and make a session of it.

I will go to Mass first thing, with my girlfriend Genna and some friends, followed by a few hours at the beach before coming back to the house to start preparing the food. It will be about 40 degrees, which makes cooking in the kitchen very intense. My Aussie friends think I’m mad not to just have a barbecue, but the turkey and ham is an important part of Christmas.

My best friend’s little brother, who was living here until recently, sent us a package from home with Bisto for the dinner, Lyon’s tea bags, Tayto crisps and Irish chocolate. There’s an Irish butcher in Perth, McLaughlin’s, that imports Irish pork so I’ll be getting the sausages and ham from there.

I share a house with two other guys who, like me, are both from Rathcoole in Dublin. There’s about a dozen others I knew from home living in Perth, ranging from 21 to 46 years of age. It is a home away from home here.

I had my own construction company in Ireland, but the business went bust and I wasn’t even entitled to the dole. I have a good job as a bricklayer now with a company called Tyrone Masonry, which has 90 per cent Irish employees. I’ll miss sitting down with my family for Christmas, but I have a new life here now. I had to move on.


Sarah McKevitt with husband Peadar and daughters Alannah and Izzie in Dubai.

Christmas is celebrated in style in Dubai. Shopping malls vie with each other to display the biggest, the tallest, the blingest tree, the most authentic Santa or the most glitzy lights display.

In Abu Dhabi last year, the Christmas tree at the Emirates Palace Hotel is reputed to have been worth more than $11 million. Adorned with jewellery made from gold and precious stones, it came with its own 24/7 security.

There will be festive markets, tree-lighting ceremonies, carol-singing, mulled wine and mince pies, and even a pantomime. My daughter’s class are staging The Grumpy Sheep, based around a traditional Nativity story, complete with baby Jesus, angels, shepherds, and, of course, camels.

We will be having Christmas dinner delivered, on this, our third year in the United Arab Emirates.

I will miss the visit to my in-laws in Donegal, the bracing walks and spending the wee hours in the pub. I will miss my brother in Dublin and my sister and her family in Gorey, because family is what Christmas is all about.

Breda Lambe: I will Skype home on Christmas morning, but sometimes that can be more upsetting as it is such an emotional time to be away. I have sent a package home to my sisters and my ma this year, hoping it will get there in time. As the weather is extremely hot and humid in the Northern Territory of Australia, Christmas is certainly different. Instead of trying to keep warm, or making snowmen, I will be trying to keep cool by the pool with my Darwin friends. This may seem appealing to all of you at home in the freezing cold, but I would happily be home trying to warm my toes by the fire with my ma beside me.

Ruth Bolger

Last year I wrote a note to Generation Emigration sharing the effect song lyrics had on me a few days before Christmas, a few thousands miles from home in New Zealand. I had a few tears wedged in my throat. It is the hardest thing to be virtually involved in the festivities while sitting in front of a computer screen, 13 hours ahead, a couple of seasons and a world apart.

This year is different. The weather is all suncream and lake swims, the Christmas tree is decorated, the ham is ordered, the tomatoes are making a valiant effort in the glasshouse to be ready for Christmas salad, and there is huge happiness in my heart. My brother Damien, his better half, Emma and their Kiwi-born son Joshua will be here for Christmas. A little bit of my family makes all the difference.

Gerard Doherty

I won’t be spending it in Australia. I have finished my first year here and am looking forward to getting home. All the Irish at work seem to be getting out of Australia this year. I’m in Sydney airport waiting to fly into Dublin, and then off home to Kerry for a month. I couldn’t stick it here for Christmas; it wouldn’t be the same.

Kevin Kelehan

I will spend Christmas in London with my French partner and our newborn daughter, whose arrival altered our plans to attend a wedding in Boston. I will miss family and friends over Christmas but having visited regularly this year, I don’t feel so guilty, as the presents will have been delivered and phonecalls made in lieu of having to put up with me in person.