Ciara Kenny

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

Following our four children to Australia

There’s a gap in our lives that only our children and grandchildren can fill, so we’re emigrating in our 50s

Next stop, Australia: Janet and Eugene Bennis are leaving Limerick

Sat, Mar 1, 2014, 00:00


Janet Bennis

I love my job. I love my house. I love everything about my life here, except that big hole where our four children are meant to be. Over the past 11 years my husband, Eugene, and I have watched them leave Limerick one by one and make Australia their home.

Between them they have three daughters and a fourth on the way, and we know they won’t ever be back here to live. So we’ve decided to pack up and join them, in our 50s.

When Jennifer left, 11 years ago, we thought she was just going for a year to spread her wings. She was only 19. But she loved it, and the others followed her.

It was hard to watch each of them go, knowing the opportunities were so good they might not be back. But we want the best for them, and Australia can offer so much more than Ireland right now. None of them had been to college here, but two are studying and are in the process of buying their own homes.

We talk to them on Skype every second night and are in constant contact on Facebook. The little ones try to hug us through the computer, blowing kisses to the camera. The loneliness we feel without them is unbearable. We feel as if we’re going through a grieving process.

The idea to join them was at the back of our minds since our youngest, Cian, left almost two years ago. It was a dream we thought would never become reality. It is only in the past few weeks that we’ve decided to go for it.

Last year we entered a radio competition to fly them all home for Christmas. Two of my friends opened a Facebook page called Christmas Miracle, and more than 4,500 people all over the world liked it. Until December 22nd we were hanging on to the hope that they’d be coming home, as we haven’t had a Christmas together for 11 years. But we didn’t win. It was devastating.

We went to Liverpool, where I’m from, for Christmas because we didn’t want to be in Limerick without the kids. It became really clear there that we had no reason to stay in Ireland. I love my job, running a cafe at the University of Limerick, but I am on a low wage. Eugene hasn’t worked since he had a triple bypass, three years ago. We make interest-only repayments on a mortgage we’ll never be able to pay back for a house that means nothing to us without our kids.

We are in the process of applying for a contributory parent visa, which lasts two years before we can apply for permanent residency. At least half of your children have to be permanent residents in Australia to be eligible, and two of ours are citizens.

We’re hoping to sell the house, our car and whatever else we can to pay our debts and start a new life. It is going to cost about €37,000 for the first visa, and another €20,000 to stay permanently. If it means arriving with just the shirts on our backs and a few bob in our pockets, so be it.

I have worked in catering since I was 14 and know everything there is to know about customer service. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find work. I’m only 53 and Eugene’s 58, but the chance to be with our children and grandchildren is worth any money. There is a gap in our lives that only they can fill.

I just want to hug them, instead of being able to kiss only a photograph. I want to be able to say I’ll call around to babysit or take the grandkids to the park. Some people don’t understand, and say I need to let them go their own way. But they don’t know what our family is like, how close we are. They want us to be there as much as we do.

In conversation with Ciara Kenny