Ciara Kenny

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Back to the land of Pats for the expat

The more involved I become with this country again, the more my eyes are opened to what was there all along, writes Jane Lawrenson on her return from Canada.

Jane Lawrenson back in Dublin

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 10:00


Jane Lawrenson

The plight of the emigrant is a well-documented thing. From the infamous ‘No Irish, No Dogs’ signs to the Generation Emigration posts of those who have ventured forth in the latest wave of emigration – or as I like to call it “way-hey, we’re all on the move again, lads,” – there’s been a bit said on the matter.

What hasn’t been written about much is what happens when you buck the trend and move back to the place you came from, in my case, Kildare.

Perhaps pathetic fallacy was at play when I left Toronto after two and a half years, as the sky was as black as my liver for the two days preceding my flight. When news of hurricane Sandy first broke, I couldn’t help but feel it was an ominous sign. This feeling was swiftly replaced by abject terror as my plane navigated skies like a scene from The Day After Tomorrow. And of course it was raining in Dublin airport when I arrived. Of course it was.

As every emigrant can testify, visiting home from abroad is a joyous and exciting occasion where you are treated like the Second Coming. When your stay is a little more long-term, people aren’t as bothered.

It is also likely that young and single return migrants will have to move back in with their parents. Don’t get me wrong, parents are great, but listening to your mammy’s daily misery list of who’s dead, dying or bankrupt is enough to drive anyone mad, and you might end up acting like the 15-year-old they are treating you like.

Living with your parents again is bad, but the employment situation is worse. There is nothing quite like the morale-busting low induced by applying for jobs you are over-qualified for but will never hear back from while off your face on jet lag.

The returning-to-Ireland stress can manifest itself in strange ways. I ended up in IKEA twice in my first three weeks back. Having never been in IKEA before and having little or no opinion on the place, I can only presume this was a symptom of a deep unrest within myself.

Another issue is my lack of friends left here, as most are still traipsing the world. Making new friends at the age of 27 isn’t easy.

There are several things that you’ll notice when you get home — the feeling that everything is familiar but strange is one of the first. The familiarity is actually more disconcerting than the strangeness because as the weeks continue, it begins to feel like you never left at all. This feeling is made all the worse by the fact that no one wants to hear your stories from where you’ve been.

It sucks and it’s frustrating that no one cares about this really big part of your life and sometimes, when they cut you off as you were just about to tell them what cheese is like in Scotland, you want to punch them in the face. It’s then I think to myself, fair enough, you’ve been here all along, right at the coalface, when things were good and recession-y. I won’t inflict anymore of the ‘What Things are Like in the Place I Was’ game on you.

Many emigrants talk about the pain of separation, a loss of national identity and a sense of ennui when they move abroad, but realistically, the main issue for me was that it was hard to get X-Factor and the tea tasted funny. Obstacles were there, definitely, but in many instances I think they are exaggerated, as our common sense takes a leave of absence as soon as we leave the departure gates.

I’d like to say that travel broadened my mind but I’m not sure it did — my waist certainly, but my mind? Not so much. Back in the motherland, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of niche events and creative projects taking place. One positive effect of the recession seems to be instead of focusing on making as much money and buying as many gaffs as possible, people seem to be driven by hobbies, creativity and self-improvement.

How am I feeling about being back now? The reviews are mixed. I managed to escape the parents and find gainful employment working on The Gathering. Considering my initial plan was to get straight out of Ireland when I came back and move to another country, being part of a project that aims to persuade others to come here proves that life certainly does have a sense of humour. And a funny thing has happened. Though the reasons to leave are still there for lots of people, the more involved I become with this country of ours, the more my eyes are opened to what was there all along.

“Have you seen The Road, yet?” my brother asked on my first visit home to Kildare. “No, not yet, I really want to,” I responded, “I mean, I’ve read the book and I think Cormac McCarthy is just a fantastic …” “No. The Road outside our house. They’ve fixed the pothole,” my mother interjected cheerily.

Just that, right there, is why I love Ireland.

Jane Lawrenson writes for The Gathering blog I Love Ireland and Irish adventure magazine, Outsider.