Ciara Kenny

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

‘Canada has jobs but Ireland is home’

My Canadian and Irish friends thought I was mad to move back after two years in Toronto but I’m happy, writes Claire O’Keefe

Claire O'Keefe pictured at Niagara Falls during her two years in Canada.

Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 00:01


Claire O’Keeffe

I’m writing this at home, in the family sitting room with its high ceilings, abandoned webs and familiar ripe scent of ancient wood. I’m home after spending nearly two years living and working in the great city of Toronto. I had adapted to the Canadian culture, the way of life, like every other emigrant and landed a permanent job in my field of work, but two years in, I made the big decision to return home to Ireland.

My own choice was made, my future was decided but my circle of friends, both Canadian and Irish, had interesting reactions to my choice.

I’m not going to pretend the decision-making process was easy. It was a tough undertaking, over the past few months, to weigh up the pros and cons of living in a rich, vibrant city like Toronto, with so much diversity and so many opportunities. Honestly, there is a real sense that the impossible can be achieved in Canada. But the cons won out in the end.

I had reached the point when my work permit was set to expire and the next step was to apply for permanent residency, which is one step away from citizenship. The truth is I wasn’t enamoured enough with Canada – despite all its treasures – to consider living there long term. There is also the issue of wanting to be near the people you love. When your heart feels heavy for home, and has felt that way for a long time, there’s no diet for that; there’s no cure until the Visa card is whipped out and the plane tickets are booked.

I booked mine in June. Now that I’m home (I got back in early September) I’m comforted by the fact that I’ve felt nothing like regret since I clicked the ‘book now’ button on that warm evening in our apartment’s small kitchen. I’m also glad that I’ll be armed with close to two years of professional experience. But looking at my decision to move back to Ireland through other peoples’ eyes was a little extraordinary.

“You’re not serious.” This was generally the reaction I got from my Irish friends living in Canada when I told them my news. The eyebrows raised; the eye-to-eye stare endured and then, seconds later, the pity arrived. You could see it in their expressions, leaking empathy with their Puss ‘n Boots eyes. “It’s because you’re homesick is it?” they said. “Ah you’re right girl, it’s hard work living in Canada.”

The compassion was not meant to antagonize or annoy, but to help me to justify a hard decision. That’s nice, but no justification is necessary.

The Canadians had a different reaction altogether. “I’m leaving Canada for Ireland,” I’d say to my Canadian friends. “What?” they’d ask. “I’m leaving for Ireland,” I’d say again because they don’t believe me. “You’re going home?!” they say with absolute incredulity. Over and over again, I repeated the decision and explained the reasons why it was made. Over and over again I was met with astonishment.

“But why is she going to Ireland,” I heard my Canadian friend ask my Irish friend, “does she really want to go back?”… as if I had a gun to my head.

It’s a comical reaction. It may be founded in the Canadians’ patriotism, clearly evident from the word ‘CANADA’ and the Maple Leaf emblazoned on clothes, bags, and hats. It may be hard to process the notion that someone would want to leave such a great and wonderful country as theirs.

It also may be founded in the belief that I might be mad. Why would I go back to a near-beaten country with Cute Hoors and white collar criminals roaming free? Why would I dismantle and destroy a life I’ve built in a safe, secure and regulated country like Canada, to return to chaos in a nation that can be called Europe’s Whipping Boy?

Because it’s Ireland. Because it’s unique. Because it’s home.

Claire is a qualified social researcher and journalist. She blogs at and tweets @claireok_2000.