Ciara Kenny

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‘Emigration has been a way back, a sort of redemption’

Life is lonely sometimes in Saudi Arabia, but there’s a lot I’m grateful for, writes Noel Scanlon

Noel Scanlon with his sons Daithí and Oisín during their recent trip to visit him in Dubai.

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 11:00


Noel Scanlon

Sitting in Bahrain Airport the other day, waiting for a flight back to Riyadh and sipping on a cold beer, that old familiar feeling returned that I know so well. Here I go again back to Riyadh, starting into another year in the Kingdom, and reflecting on how transient and different and sometimes lonely life has become in the last few years.

July 2011, I left Ireland to take up a posting on a remote military base in Afghanistan (read more about this in a previous interview for Generation Emigration, ‘All I knew about Afghanistan was years of war’). It is now three years later, and I’m working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and life is so different to what it was.

I can only describe the last few years as a mixture of adventure, relief, grief, a sense of a transient lifestyle, sometimes loneliness, always interesting but to be absolutely frank, a world completely turned upside down from where I was ten years ago.

Back in 2004, I was married, had just set up my own business, I was dad to a two-year-old son and anticipating the arrival of a second, was about to go on holiday to Lake Garda in Italy, which turned out to be a fantastic trip. I can still remember having Daithi perched on my shoulders, heading off for pizza in the warm evenings.

Comparing life to the present day and bemoaning the cards I’ve been dealt is of no use to me or anyone else. I actually believe I’ve been fairly fortunate, though the ride has certainly been rough at times and like many things, some aspects are positive, others not so.

The financial meltdown from 2008 was a massive blow to Ireland, and its repercussions are still being felt. There are now signs of recovery in parts, primarily the greater Dublin area and also Cork. This is certainly to be welcomed, though I would have concerns about other Irish towns such as Limerick, where recovery is somewhat slower. I belong to an industry that was effectively wiped out, which will take some time to recover properly back home.

My experience of the years 2008 to 2011 was of running a business which was less than five years old, and seeing turnover literally collapse by 80 per cent in two months. It is only now when I look back, I appreciate how dramatic that was for business owners up and down the country. and the effect it had on families and local communities, right up to this day and beyond in the form of failed businesses, unemployment and for many of us, emigration.

When I finally gave up on the business in 2011, after doing as much as I could possibly do to keep it alive and to re-invent myself for other roles, it was with a huge sense of failure. You feel you have let your staff down, your family down. You deny it and try to battle on, but it’s actually a huge sense of failure which can lead to a dark place if it’s not addressed.

Emigration has been a way back, a sort of redemption, a return in confidence, not something I had anticipated in the first year when based in Afghanistan. With confidence, comes perspective again and a new focus on the future. I have recovered a lot of lost ground financially, thankfully. In 2012 I relocated from Afghanistan to Riyadh with an Irish company, and I have much to be grateful for now.

The change is challenging, but there is very little one can do about it other than adapt. Here in Riyadh, its very transient. People (particularly expats) come and go fairly regularly. It’s incredibility hot, (43 degrees this week). It lacks a sense of place for a lot of us and its culture and societal norms can take a lot of getting used to by comparison to other nearby countries. I have formed new friendships and relationships, I’ve sadly lost others, but life is going on and there is much to look forward to also.

My boys are growing bigger and smarter. The banks now write polite letters to me, which came as a surprise. I get more time off than I used to when I was running my own business. I’ve visited a lot of countries I never expected to and have come to understand the Middle East so much more than I did before.

On the other side, yes, it’s been a struggle at times. I really do miss home, and look forward to the day when I can return and re-establish a life in Ireland. Now there’s something to look forward to.

“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes, What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions” - Jim Rohn

Noel Scanlon was interviewed by Ciara Kenny for Generation Emigration shortly after he left for Afghanistan in 200. Read that interview here. He writes a blog at