Ciara Kenny

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

‘Don’t come home unless you have a plan’

Denis Vahey quit teaching in UAE to return to Tipperary to set up his own photography business

Thu, Jun 6, 2013, 00:01


Katie Harrington

If emigrating is one of the hardest decisions we can make as young people, the decision to move home is every bit as daunting. The benefits are clear, but like anything in life, it is not without risk. You leave behind a country you have invested yourself in, once again you withdraw from a social circle it took years to establish and, perhaps most importantly, you leave behind the relative security of paid employment.

It’s tough to balance, and a deeply personal decision for most, but while statistics show emigration is still a go-to solution for many, more than 100,000 Irish emigrants have returned to live in Ireland since 2008. Among these is Denis Vahey, who spent three years in the United Arab Emirates working as a primary school teacher, before deciding to return to Tipperary to pursue a new business in photography.

“I left Ireland because like most graduates I was mad to see a bit of the world. A teaching job in the Middle East was the ideal opportunity as it afforded me the same holidays as a primary school teacher here,” Denis says.

“I was not a qualified teacher and I had no TEFL either, a week of training and there I was teaching thirty fourth grade kids. It was challenging at times, but it afforded me the opportunity to see parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where I had unforgettable experiences and got to experiment with different types of photography.”

Though he knew it was a risky move in the economic climate, Denis returned to his native Tipperary in June last year and immediately set about opening his own photography studio.

“I’m delighted I took the plunge. It’s something I had wanted to do for a long time and I was encouraged by friends and family to do so. It was scary wondering if it would succeed or not. I’m happy to say that so far it has. People are being very careful with any disposable income they may have and with photography, family portraits in particular are once again being seen as a great investment. They last.

“My advice to Irish abroad who want to make the return is don’t come home unless you have a plan. If you have a plan that is well researched and thought out, come home and give it your best shot. If it doesn’t work out, fine, at least you gave it a shot and you won’t be living with regret.”

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Katie Harrington (24) is an Irish journalist living in Dubai. She has written previous articles for Generation Emigration: Are emigrants abandoning Ireland, or has it abandoned them?, ‘It’s not the goodbyes we dread. What worries us is when we’ll see each other again’ and ‘The longer people stay away, the less likely they are to return’.  Her articles are collected at