Ciara Kenny

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

‘I welcomed friend after friend home over Christmas’

Saying goodbye to them was like having to give back the greatest present possible, writes Aileen Moon

Aileen Moon (left) with returned emigrant friends on St Stephen's Day: Eoin Gardiner who lives in Spain, Gary Gardiner who is just back from New Zealand, Damien Kelly who is moving to New York in February and Myles Buckley who lives in London.

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 00:00


Aileen Moon

I’m not someone who came home for Christmas from a new French, American or Kiwi life, but was on the receiving end. I welcomed friend after friend back from their new lives – one has become very tanned, another has become very French, and another is now sporting an engagement ring. All the rest are the same. If a little bit different.

I was slotted in to meet up with as many old heads as possible – in one or two cases the only time left was the sixth pub of the night, so god knows what we talked about. God knows if we actually met.

The lunches, the Christmas drinks, the coffees. All with rapidfire catch-ups about jobs, houses, weather, new friends. We get the photos of palm trees and themed parties on Facebook and Twitter but none of the real news. Real friendship comes from the real stuff – family troubles, insecurities, fears and hopes, but there’s no time for that when you’re busy catching up on the basics.

There are new traditions being added to Irish Christmas lists every year – Christmas jumpers, Christmas markets, 12 pubs. This year we’re adding Christmas Friends to the list, a meet up with people who used to be in our lives every day.

Let’s be brutally honest – life will still keep going, wherever we all end up. There will be weddings, there will be babies, there will be divorces and sickness and death. And soon there will be too many things keeping me here and keeping them in their new homes. Is there anything worse than helplessly watching someone cry on Skype?

I’m lucky – really lucky – in that I have a job I like and my own place in Dublin (on Francis Street near the guy who wears the Viking hat and hands out Metro Heralds). Otherwise, news from this influx of friends from their new exciting foreign lives would tempt me. It does tempt me. Of course it does.

I’m already angry at this country of ours because most of my friends, though they were the ones who booked flights, never decided to leave. It was the only option for so many. And most would love to come home if there was any chance of them having a good life here.

I hate not being able to jump in my car to see them when they get bad news, I loathe that I no longer know every little thing about them. And I’m awful at maths so I find working out time differences very challenging. But that’s a personal issue.

Having all these strong, funny and caring friends back for Christmas was like getting the greatest present possible but then having to give it back to someone (or somewhere) else.

Aileen is 27 and from Dublin. She works in the fundraising office in Our Lady’s Hospice. For more about emigrants’ Christmases at home in Ireland (including a great piece by Piaras Mac Einri about the empty rooms left behind by emigrant children, from a parent’s perspective), see yesterday’s newspaper piece, Flying visits: returning emigrants’ impressions of Christmas at home.