Ciara Kenny

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

Do men suffer homesickness more acutely than women?

An analysis of Generation Emigration articles seems to indicate male emigrants may be more emotional about “home” than females, writes Patrick McKenna

Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 12:00


Patrick McKenna

In the first post I wrote for Generation Emigration in January last year, aware of the whiny, childish perception of “homesickness”, I labelled the feeling of missing home “Persistent Immigrant Homesickness” and sought shelter in its vaguely scientific abbreviation, “P.I.H.”

I was able to quote many P.I.H. instances from the discussion thread “Have your say: would you move back to Ireland?” (the comments are no longer visible since the commenting system changed on, which included: “Homesickness is not a steady state. It’s a dull toothache that comes and goes away.” “So many times alone, and longing for some family and friends. Yes, you make a life, at least you try but you always miss home ” – and so on. The P.I.H. picture hasn’t changed much in the past year: the sentiment is still: “We love it here but Ireland is still home.”

This year I think I can add an intriguing twist to the “P.I.H story”. The most poignant GE posts indicative of P.I.H. all are penned by men; Philip Lynch’s posts (“Aerograms”, “Remembering my mother at Christmas”, are classics), Keith Sharkey’s “Returning the emigrant after death” (a remarkable story of bringing his father’s body home), Padraig Moran’s “One thought kept recurring. My mother might be dying, and I’m not there”, Niall Foley’s “Streets not always paved with gold”, Gary Finnegan’s “Saying au revoir but not goodbye”… Even the cool, detached, UCC emigration researcher, Piaras Mac Éinrí, (“We need to know a lot more about emigration”) writes with emotion of a long lost uncle, obviously suffering from P.I.H. who “…could not juggle the realities of living between two worlds”.

When I searched for GE women who showed noteworthy signs of P.I.H. – or lack thereof – I had a big surprise. Of the 32 posts that met my criteria, the majority (24) were not in the P.I.H. category. In fact, about 10 fall into a category that I call, “Quite frankly, my dear, I couldn’t give a d***” such as: “Calvados, scallops and a turkey fresh from the farm”; “La dolce vita”, “Non, je ne regrette rien” “Becoming a US citizen to vote for Obama”, and so on.

If I was surprised, it was not by the gender bias, but by the fact that it is in the opposite of what I expected. It’s as though GE men more emotional about home than GE women. Obviously, I started to wonder why this should be. Are women more pragmatic than men? Is the “nesting and nurturing” instinct stronger than the “homing” instinct?

There are some other possibilities that come to mind but I think it prudent to go no further with my theorizing. It already has me skating on thin ice, over a deep pool of cold water. I prefer leave this discussion to GE women, and men, as they probably have much clearer insights than I ever could have.

Do you agree with Patrick’s observations on homesickness? Have you experienced it, or noticed a difference between Generation Emigration posts written by men or women? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.