Ciara Kenny

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

From Ireland to North America: How’s the new life going?

Adrian Gallagher left his family in Limerick for a carpentry job in Alberta, while Sarah Tharakan and her husband are in San Francisco

Adrian Gallagher (right) with Alan O'Shea on their arrival to Alberta earlier this year.

Sat, May 24, 2014, 01:00


Ciara Kenny

At the start of the year we spoke to five individuals and a young couple with a baby who were all intending to emigrate in 2014 (read their pre-departure January interviews here). Starting today, and continuing next week, we see how they are getting on in their new homes.


Gallagher, a 36-year-old carpenter from Co Sligo, said goodbye to his wife, Emer, and sons, 10-year-old Luke and six-year-old Cian, in January to fly to Canada, after being in and out of work since 2008. He is now living in Grande Prairie, a town in the northwest of the province, surrounded by oil and gas fields, working for a small home-building firm

Grande Prairie is only celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, so it is a new town. The whole place was white when we arrived, and it was hard to tell what it was like under the snow. The buildings are quite scattered; it’s not like any town in Ireland. It’s nice, but it’s not like Galway or Kilkenny. People come here for the work, not for the beauty of the place.

It has all the services you’d need; it has to, as the next big town is a five-hour drive away. The landscape is vast, with jacks pumping oil along the roadsides. It takes time to get used to such a different place.

It was minus 20 when myself and Alan O’Shea arrived in the middle of January. We were told by everyone it was mild for that time of year. The sun was out and the snow was tall.

Alan got a job in the same company, and we came over together. We didn’t know each other and first met at the airport. I’ve made a great friend in him over the last few months.

We started work straight away. One of the days I was working outside in minus 35. I thought the fingers would fall off me. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other, and it’s warm now. The gloves and the hats are safely stowed away, and it’s on with the suncream.

It has been tough being here without Emer and the boys. Some days I cope fine, and others all I want to do is hop on the next flight and get home to them. Cian had a pain in his stomach a while back and was in hospital for a check-up. My wife kept telling me he was fine, but being a few thousand miles away was so unnerving.

It was my birthday in March. Emer brought them to the beach, and they wrote “Happy Birthday Daddy, we love you” with sticks in the sand, and sent me pictures. It nearly broke me.

Skype and Viber have been a huge help, though. The reception can be bad sometimes when I’m out at work, but I try to talk to them every day, say goodnight. I’m going home for a trip in July, which I’m looking forward to, but I’m already dreading saying goodbye again.

We’ve made no decision yet about where we’ll all be next year. We’ll do that when I’m home in July. But life’s good here, and I think the boys and Emer would like it.


We’ve been talking a lot with the boys, because we can’t make the decision without involving them. They are really excited about the snow, and the big waterpark nearby, and the moose and bears they read about in their storybooks walking around in the woods. But how they would be after they had been here a month, I don’t know. There would be no GAA, so they’d have to take up hockey and rugby.

It would be hard for the rest of the family, especially the boys’ grandmother, who would miss them very much if they come over here. She doesn’t want them to go but can see that we need to be together as a family.

Careerwise the move has been amazing. Experienced tradesmen are in really high demand. I’ve met about a dozen Irish here since arriving, all in the building trade. In Ireland we were taken for granted. Here we’re appreciated. Our company is starting two new houses this summer. Back in Ireland you’d be lucky to have two extensions. All I can see is work in front of me.

You’d want to see the houses we’re building. They’re mansions. There’s a toilet due to go into one of the places we’re working on which is Bluetooth-enabled and cost 7,000 Canadian dollars [¤4,750]. There’s huge wealth here linked to the oilfields.

We’ve been working really hard since arriving. What else are we to do? We’re as well off to be working as myself and Alan sitting looking at each other in the house. The team have been really supportive of the two of us. They try to include us whatever way they can.

The conversion rates are poor at the moment, which has had an impact financially. The money is good here, but sending it home doesn’t stretch far. Emotionally, it has been difficult for us all. The boys had periods of night terrors, and Cian’s eating has worsened, which is all a knock-on effect of them not having their daddy there. Emer has to deal with that on her own.

It has been hard for all of us. We’ll know this time next year whether it has all been worth it.

SARAH THARAKAN, California, United States

Tharakan, a 31-year-old Irish and American citizen, arrived in San Francisco in April with her 29-year-old husband, Nithin, who had lined up a job at the headquarters of the company he worked for in Dublin

Starting over by choice seemed like a worthwhile adventure, but I’m beginning to think it’s just a series of mundane tasks done someplace different.

It can also be very expensive. With no credit history in the US, we had to put huge deposits on our mobile-phone contract. Rents are protest-worthy high for unfurnished properties, and the standard application form for an apartment reads like a job interview.

We did a huge amount of research online before leaving and were offered a great apartment within five days of touching down. It wasn’t quite move-in ready, so we still ended up in a motel for four weeks, eating microwavable meals off picnic plates and hanging our laundry on shower rails.

San Francisco is a city hard to pin down in words; it’s even harder when I’m mostly viewing it from inside a furniture store, or a bank, or a car dealership. Having arrived in early April, it’s only this week we have found any spare time to begin exploring it.

It’s still surreal that we live here now. We’ve been talking for years about making a move, but the comforts of home always proved too strong. I’m keenly aware of my relative privilege in this regard. Transplanting my life, seeing if roots can take hold someplace different, has already been worthwhile.

This article appears in Weekend Review today. To read the January interviews with our 2014 emigrants, including some short videos, see Getting ready to go: Six people emigrating this year.