Back to Ireland at last: the Dubliners, The Irish Times and the homecoming

Anthony and Nicky Kearney are finally able to return from Australia. It hasn’t been easy

Jessica, Adam, Anthony and Nicky Kearney last month in the Cairns Museum, Queensland with Ned Kelly’s body armour

Jessica, Adam, Anthony and Nicky Kearney last month in the Cairns Museum, Queensland with Ned Kelly’s body armour

 

Anthony and Nicky Kearney left Ireland with their four children and moved to Australia in late 2009. The family of seven had planned to move back to Ireland earlier this year, but all changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit and they were forced to stay put in Brisbane. To get permission to leave Australia, they had to apply for an exemption through the Australian government. That was where The Irish Times came in.

The Kearneys will arrive in Dublin on Sunday, December 13th, after travelling from Brisbane to Dublin with a short stopover in Doha. (Their eldest daughter, Katie, is at college in Brisbane, so she is staying in Australia.) After quarantining in Wexford they are looking forward to spending Christmas in Tallaght with Nicky’s mother. It has been a long journey, writes Anthony Kearney.

After several failed attempts to return to Ireland to live since March, we have finally been granted a travel exemption by the Australian government to get back to Ireland by Christmas. We had to show that our intent to move home predated the coronavirus outbreak; they also wanted proof we had no intention of returning to Australia any time soon. We had no idea when we wrote it, but the Irish Times Abroad article published in May played a role in our exemption application. The article outlining our desire to move home was accepted by the Australian government as part of our application and made the process that bit easier.

I find myself wanting to fast-forward to Reeling in the Years 2020 and remember face masks, hand sanitiser, Donald Trump and toilet-roll shortages as a thing of the past

Coming home for Christmas is something that every Irish person living abroad dreams of. You want to return to where you come from and enjoy the holidays with loved ones. We know this won’t be a normal December in Ireland, and Ireland is facing a bleak winter wrestling with this pandemic, but we still want to be there. We also plan to spend at least the next 12 months in Ireland.

Watching from a Covid-free Queensland here in Australia, it is easy to make comparisons, but the Irish Government’s approach to the pandemic has not deterred us, only strengthened our longing to come home. We want to be there for our parents and to lighten the weight the virus has left them to carry. With the world so unstable at this time, the ties we have to Ireland have been magnified.

Covid-19 has been a leveller for me and for everyone. It has given us the opportunity to prioritise the things that matter most. I find myself wanting to fast-forward to Reeling in the Years 2020 and remember face masks, hand sanitiser, Donald Trump and toilet-roll shortages as a thing of the past.

Jess, Emily and Adam Kearney on the border between New South Wales and Queensland. “Crossing the state border through a Covid checkpoint with a signed declaration has become part of our daily routine to get to and from school,” says Anthony Kearney
Jess, Emily and Adam Kearney on the border between New South Wales and Queensland. “Crossing the state border through a Covid checkpoint with a signed declaration has become part of our daily routine to get to and from school,” says Anthony Kearney

Living away from Ireland for a decade, you tend to forget the reasons you left in the first place. You forget the weather, the expensive fuel, the high cost of living and the poor healthcare system. I have not spent Christmas in Dublin for a very long time so remember simple family Christmases there in the 1970s and 1980s with rose-tinted glasses. Santa didn’t look so Hollywood then, and the presents fitted under the tree. The things we Irish took for granted before all these restrictions, like supping pints of Guinness down the local surrounded by your family and friends, are no more.

Dublin is usually a hive of activity all through December, with the Christmas party season in full swing, so this will be a very surreal Christmas around the city. I keep trying to imagine arriving in Dublin this December. We will soon find out what it is like.

Christmas in Brisbane is simple: cold ham and prawns replace stuffed turkey and ham, and a mixed salad replaces the seven veggies and five types of potatoes we serve in Ireland

We have had an unbelievably good experience living here. Australia is one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse countries in the world. The friendly Aussies are very welcoming to migrants and to the traditions we bring with us. Christmas here on the Gold Coast is completely different from Christmas in Ireland. I always struggle to think of it as the same festive season here in Brisbane, because of the heat. You don’t have the rush or the queues at the shopping centres, and nobody puts themselves into debt to buy their kids the latest shoes and phones. Christmas in Brisbane is simple: cold ham and prawns replace stuffed turkey and ham, and a mixed salad replaces the seven veggies and five types of potatoes we serve in Ireland.

We have been going to bed at night wondering if we are the only family living in Australia wanting to return to Ireland during a lockdown. But we haven’t changed our minds.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye: the Kearneys on a trip to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway last month
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye: the Kearneys on a trip to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway last month

Flight disruptions because of ever-changing world events have resulted in our flights being rescheduled three times. Now, after quarantine, we hope to be in Tallaght village for Christmas Eve, so after a gloomy year we’re hopefully bringing some festive cheer home.

We plan to quarantine regardless of whether Australia is on the green list, as we know travellers returning to Ireland this Christmas are at the front of the Government’s minds. We have jumped through lots of hoops here in Australia to be able to leave, so we have no problem doing the same in Ireland so they let us in and everyone stays safe.

Our kids are really looking forward to starting school in Ireland. Our youngest, Emily, has a place in junior infants at St Mary’s Primary in Tallaght village, which is the school my wife, Nicky, attended as a child. But we have hit a brick wall with Jessica, who is 12, and Adam, who is 11. All of the four secondary schools we have made contact with in south Dublin have said they don’t have any places. We are not worried at this stage, though, as we will get it sorted once we get home.

Nicky and I are also that optimistic that opportunities will arise. Nicky has been training in mental health, and I work in disability support for young people, even working on a new cookery programme with them.

Whatever happens, we just want to get home.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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