Ciara Kenny

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

Coming home and leaving again

At this time of year, many emigrants, Irish and otherwise, have spent time at “home” with relatives at great inconvenience and expense to themselves. It is important that family, community and the nation value emigrants, and let them know they are appreciated and remembered no matter where they are, writes Bobby Gilmore.

Mon, Dec 31, 2012, 01:00



Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left that night for Egypt. (Mt.2-14)

Passengers leaving Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport after Christmas last weekend. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Over the past several years many new people have arrived in Ireland from countries throughout the world in search of a better life like the Irish who emigrated in the past. Now, young Irish people are leaving, like their forebears, to seek a better life elsewhere. Economic failures throw people out of their usual habitats in search of an opportunity to be creative and be contributors to their own wellbeing. For both those coming and going, particularly in modern times, there is a strong hope that the outward journey, filled with hope, will eventually lead to a return journey home.

The situation of these people and their children who have to leave home find themselves betwixt and between. They are border people, looking back over their shoulders. They have left comfortable lifestyles, jobs they thought were secure, mortgages on family homes, children’s schools, social familiarity, faith communities and the comfort of the familiar. Now, they have to cope with new skylines, strange signs and symbols, in a new learning curve trying to make the unfamiliar comfortable to themselves and family members. Like many emigrants with young families, initially they assume that their children will be like their counterparts back where they left. Liminality, being neither here nor there, has become for many temporary normality.

However, for those who are allowed entry into another state because of the skills and talent they bring, life is bearable in that they are viewed in their new surroundings as being there legally. But many emigrants in modern times are fleeing with the few bits and pieces that they can fit in a plastic bag or a backpack. The borders they reach are not welcoming. They are looked on as suspect, a risk, after risking life and limb to reach that point. Along the way they are exploited by traffickers and in many instances left to die. On arrival at borders they are arrested, detained and kept in detention centres. All these are people who do not want to leave what we all desire, home. Yet, they are treated as disposable.

Has anything changed in two thousand years for the vulnerable, the poor and marginal? One is left to assume that Jesus, his mother and father in their flight were not that much different from those fleeing for whatever reason in modern times. Yet, there are those who claim that modern migration is different. Sure it is. The external journey has changed for many from a donkey to a jumbo jet, a rickety fishing craft in the Mediterranean or a dhow on the Horn of Africa. But the internal journey has not changed. There is the loss and change in the internal journey of the human heart. The loss of an extended family the search for a new community takes time.

Then there is the hope of return. In modern times return seems easily accessible. There is the idealism that the streets of the destination are paved with gold. But return for many, other than on holidays, remains a dream in a world of biblical-like inequality for the masses. The income for 1 per cent of the population, the global elite, grew by 11 per cent while the income for the 99 per cent grew only by 0.2 per cent. Anecdotal comments by politicians, the media and economists indicating that the present economic downturn is short-lived and return is just around the corner is creating false hope for many.

At this time of year, many emigrants, Irish and otherwise, have spent time at “home” with relatives at great inconvenience and expense to themselves. While it is an occasion to connect with extended family and friends there is also the need for emigrants to send out a message that their emigration is a success. Failure is not a word in the migration dictionary. But it is important that family, community and the nation value emigrants. They generate economies abroad by their energy and ingenuity and at home by their remittances. It is important that they get a message that they are valued and appreciated wherever they are and at Christmas are remembered.

“Where migrants and refugees are concerned, the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one other’s welfare generously offering a creative contribution and rightfully sharing in the same rights and duties.” (Pope Benedict XV, 12/10/12)

So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. (Mt. 2-25)

Bobby Gilmore is a founding member and President of the Migrant Rights Centre in Dublin, and has written several previous articles for Generation Emigration