Generation Emigration five years on: Where are they now?

Irish Times Abroad catches up with emigrants interviewed back in 2011/12 to find out how moving abroad worked out for them

As Generation Emigration expands to Irish Times Abroad, a bigger and broader site for overseas readers, we contacted some of the people who wrote and were interviewed about their move abroad in the early months of the project, back in 2011 and 2012, to find out where they are living now, and how moving abroad worked out for them.

Join the new Irish Times Abroad network by following the link below:

Adrienne Slattery, Christchurch: 'Family visits have been important to me to maintain my connection to Ireland'

Adrienne Slattery with her partner Tim Shannon, their son Henry and daughter Isabella. Adrienne’s father Michael Slattery is in the boat picture, and her mother Ann is in the ski pic which was taken on the Mount Hutt ski field near Christchurch. The picnic photo was taken at Lake Tekapo on the South Island.

Fire safety engineer Adrienne Slattery was pregnant with her second child when she moved to Christchurch in New Zealand with her husband, a structural engineer, the day after the second major earthquake in February 2011. "We were leaving the economic disaster in Ireland behind and heading into a natural disaster in Christchurch," she told The Irish Times in 2012.The couple now have a third child, and are both still working in good engineering jobs in the city.

“I’ve feel very proud of what I’ve achieved. It feels like we took a massive risk coming to Christchurch, but it has paid off. Our three kids have Irish and Kiwi identities. We haven’t travelled back to Ireland for a visit yet, but are very much looking forward to returning next year for my brother’s wedding. It will be great for the kids to meet their extended family over there.

“Weather is consistently good here with dry and cold but sunny winters, and long summers.

"This year my parents will make the long trip out to see us again, for the fifth time. I feel very lucky that they come over; we will have a great time together holidaying around New Zealand. My uncle, aunt and cousin visited last year too, and it was very special for them to my kids. My other cousin is visiting this Christmas. Those visits are important to me to maintain my connection to Ireland.

"Christchurch is still a construction site, with most of the CBD still a rubble wasteland. Often when I'm walking to work, I cannot believe where I live sometimes. The work is here for us for a long time to come. There are many Irish here; I've met mums at the primary school and many more people where I work at Christchurch City Council, and I love that. We are from all over Ireland but feel connected, and that's great."

Neil O’Connor, returned from New York: 'My three years abroad taught me that family, friends and time out to enjoy life is far more rewarding that working long hours just to pay the rent'

Neil O'Connor moved to the US on an arts visa in 2010 in after he lost all his music lecturing work at three Irish third-level institutions. While living in California and New York, with a short attempt to move back to Ireland in between, he was making every effort to find work back at home. At the beginning especially, he flew back regularly to Ireland to play gigs with the band Redneck Manifesto and as Somadrone, his own electronic outfit.

"As much as I like America I don't see it as a long-term thing. I have dedicated 12 years of my life to music in Ireland, and that is where it works for me," he told The Irish Times in 2012.Neil returned to live in Dublin in August 2013, when he was offered a full-time post in an Institute of Technology. He had also met his fiancé Michelle on a return trip home, which was another reason to move back. The couple now have a seven-month-old daughter, Meabh.

"Workwise it's radically different here; I went from 10 days off a year to a much more generous world. My brother still lives in Atlanta and I don't envy his lifestyle," he says.

“I think my three years in America, and the experience, not only got me my current post, but taught me that family, friends and time out to enjoy life is far more rewarding that working long hours just to pay the rent. Stability is something that makes life so much easier. People go there looking for the American dream. I didn’t find it; perhaps it never existed.”

Ann Cahalan, Dubai: 'They are typical third-culture-kids with their odd international accents'

When The Irish Times first spoke to Ann Cahalan in November 2011, she had been living in Doha in Qatar with her husband and two children for a year. The family had moved after Mike, an engineer, finished up work on Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport, and struggled to find another job.

"We have an income here, which is the most important thing, especially as the daily news from Ireland gets worse and the EU bid to resolve the debt crisis slides into disarray. When the time is right to go home we will, but for now we are making what we can of our time here," Ann told us in 2011.

The family moved to Dubai in 2013.

“We still return to Ireland each summer and spend time with family and friends and exploring so that the children are getting some familiarity with their country,” Ann says.

“We left Ireland when they were Aran was 1 and Catriona was 3, and they are now 7 and 9. They love returning to go to Cul Camp with the cousins and had their First Communion in Dublin this summer. In some aspects they are very Irish as they play GAA here in Dubai each season and are keen Irish dancers. In other ways they are typical third-culture-kids with their odd international accents, their favourite food being Persian, their ability to read and write in Arabic as well as English, and their complete ease with the 87 nationalities in their small school.

“I’ve added to my qualifications over the years and I’m now teaching chemistry and loving it. There are so many Irish teachers here. Mike continues to enjoy his work in construction. The plans for development in Dubai continue to amaze. We have a lovely and helpful network of friends we have met over the years now in various places across the region, which makes for lots of places to visit.”

Eileen and Seamus Burke, returned from Canada: 'We both felt like we were on holiday, but at the same time earning a living'

Eileen and Seamus Burke emigrated to Vancouver for the third time in their lives in 2012. Five weeks ago, they moved back to Galway.

Eileen Burke had just turned 60 in early 2012 when she and her husband Seamus became "the oldest backpackers in Canada", leaving their home and grown-up family in Galway to move to Vancouver for the third time in their lives.

The couple’s construction business, which had employed 15 people at its peak, had fallen victim to the downturn. Their house was remortgaged to service the debts before they left for Vancouver, where Seamus was hoping to find carpentry work on the building sites. They moved into a shared house with four other Irish in their 20s, determined to give the move their best shot.

Eileen was one of the first people interviewed for the Generation Emigration series in this newspaper, just weeks after the couple departed. Five weeks ago, after four and a half years in Canada, they had arrived back in Galway.

“We made wonderful lifelong friendships, enjoyed the laid back outdoorsy lifestyle, the weather and landscape with real enthusiasm, and have to say was one of the best experiences of our lives,” she wrote. “But we greatly missed our family, friends and particularly our six grandchildren. We are back for good now. We thought it would be a difficult adjustment, but so far things (even the weather) have been pretty seamless.”

“From the piece in The Irish Times in 2012, we had so many wonderful people contact us. Seamus got a job out of it, we had offers of accommodation etc., and made some really good contacts and friendships as a result, for which we are really grateful. I started working in an accountant’s office as an administrator, and my work colleagues will be lifelong friends who will come here to visit next year. Catholine Butler and her daughter Maura De Freitas, editors and producers of The Celtics Connection newspaper, became great friends and I represented the paper at an emigration press conference in 2013, writing a piece for the paper at that time.

“Life in Vancouver, for us both, was wonderfully uplifting and we both felt like we were on holiday, but at the same time earning a living. It is a very expensive place to live. We will definitely go back to visit, but in the meantime we are enjoying being back with our wonderful grandkids, family and friends.”

Devin and Nadege Doyle, recently moved again to France: ‘We were desperate to cut down our living expenses and improve our lifestyle’

Devin and Nadege Doyle were interviewed for the very first Generation Emigration article in 2011, when the couple and their daughter Valentine were living in Sydney. After a few years living close to Nadege’s family in France, where their second daughter Juliette was born, they moved back to Dublin in 2015 as Devin’s career began to pick up in Ireland. They made it work for a year, before Nadege and their two daughters recently moved back to France, “unable to live with the insecurity and expense of renting in Ireland”.

“We were desperate to cut down our living expenses and improve our lifestyle. Everything that makes the news headlines these days in Ireland has been hitting us. Education equity, housing crisis, health system (or more like the lack of one), plus the fact that it would have cost me money to go back to work and pay for childcare. Thank God we had a way out,” Nadege told The Irish Times this week.

“I don't know how Irish families are coping. It's a sacrifice on our family life but at least we know we can't be evicted easily, can pay the rent, we have cheap and sometimes free access to healthcare.  Even the grocery bill is cut in half and now we're eating more local grown and organic food. The girls started to feel our stress. We didn't notice it back in Dublin but now we can see the change of behaviour. They're just way happier here in France. I am too. “Leaving Dublin was a sad and sudden decision. I felt like I was being kicked out. The solution to our struggles was so obvious it didn't feel like a decision anymore but just something that just had to be done.”

Barry McKinley, returned from the US: 'I miss New York, the Saturday mornings in Central Park'

"At 53 years of age I'm planning on leaving the country again, returning to New York city where I worked for more than a decade. I will be taking my carpentry tools, my arms, my shoulders, my back - the legs will follow. There's nothing in Ireland left to build, and no money left to pay for it," wrote Barry McKinley for Generation Emigration in March 2012, as he headed "off to New York with the iPaddies".For two years, he moved back and forth to New York for work.

“Things started picking up over here then, just a bit, and I’ve been working consistently since then,” he says this week. “But I’m still away from my family in Kilkenny for a large part of the week because the construction work is generally in the Dublin area.

“I have a book coming out in May next year, a memoir about the late 1970s in London, and how a 20-year-old Irishman ended up working as a draughtsman for British Nuclear Fuels Limited, on one of their most toxic projects.

"Since the article, my wife graduated from Maynooth College with a degree in Chinese and Spanish. My twin sons have moved into secondary school. I miss New York, the Saturday mornings in Central Park, the sticky heat of the subway in August, and the bagels with half a pound of cream cheese. Manhattan will continue to live in my heart."

Stephen Fraser, returned from Brisbane: ‘I continue to recommend working abroad to younger engineers’  

Maritime engineer Stephen Fraser was home from his honeymoon just two months when the company he worked for offered him a 12-month contract in Brisbane, as work dried up in Ireland. He left his wife Rachel, a primary school principal, behind and headed down under for a year, telling Generation Emigration how “being able to talk to your wife – your best friend and partner in life – only through a computer is really hard”.

Stephen moved back to the Dublin office in December 2012. The couple had their first daughter, Ella, in 2014 and are expecting their second child any day.

“Workwise, we are busier than ever and working on a number of interesting projects both in Ireland and in Europe. Our team has grown in size from three engineers when I left for Australia to 14 now. I continue to recommend working abroad to younger engineers, seeing it as a valuable experience to broaden your horizons and get an opportunity to work on projects that differ in scale significantly to those in Ireland.”

Caroline Bowler, Singapore: ‘I’m now an entrepreneur and an employer’

The banking crisis hit Ireland just after Caroline Bowler, who worked for an international investment banking company, had signed a contract to relocate to Singapore in 2007.

“I’m still living and loving life in Singapore. I still playing Gaelic Football and I am heading to my ninth Asian Gaelic Games this weekend in Shanghai. A lot of my friends from that time are still in Singapore too, although my circle has grown and moved away over the years.

“What has changed is work and family. I started Asia’s first Fintech PR agency, named with affection Bowlah PR, in 2015. I’m now an entrepreneur and an employer in one of the most exciting sectors within finance. One of my sisters has joined me out here. My wedding at home this summer turned into a raucous two-day affair, joined by a large number of friends from our time in Asia.

“My views on emigration remained unchanged. Being this far from family and friends is hard and Asia brings unique challenges. But I would still encourage Irish people to try it on for size. Moving to Singapore remains, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Fionnuala McKenna, returned from Italy: 'A secure future for me as a single parent, both financially and emotionally, grew difficult to envisage'

Inspired by A Place in the Sun and motivated by a desire for a better life for herself and her three children following her redundancy from an arts centre in 2008, Fionnuala McKenna used her SSIA savings to buy a seven-acre olive farm in Puglia in Italy in June 2009. When she spoke to The Irish Times in October 2011, Fionnuala was teaching art and drama through English, and exporting her olive oil to Ireland.

“After two years in Puglia, I felt the school system was very restrictive, the cultural differences we experienced were more pronounced, and a secure future for me as a single parent, both financially and emotionally, grew difficult to envisage,” she tells The Irish Times this week.

"We returned to Ireland September 2012, settled the kids in school, and I opened a raw vegan café called Purple Root in Westport. Unfortunately the café is currently closed due to an accident I suffered last year. I'm picking up the pieces, and slowly accepting my kids are now teenagers. The familiarity of living in Ireland certainly makes raising my children less stressful than I experienced in Italy."

Noel Scanlon, from Afghanistan to the Netherlands: ‘It has been a rollercoaster ride taking in five different countries’

“All I knew about Afghanistan before I took the job was years of war,” Noel Scanlon said when interviewed in December 2012. He had moved to work as a project manager on a military base in Uruzgan province after his architectural services business in Limerick collapsed in 2008.

In the past five years, he has lived in five countries.

“I left Afghanistan in April 2012 and was then hired by an Irish consultancy to work in Riyadh,  Saudi Arabia, where I stayed until October 2014 working on data centres throughout the country. I was then deployed to work with Tullow Oil in Accra in Ghana for six months to complete their new HQ, and from there I moved to East Africa to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania where I worked until February of this year.

“By then I had recovered my financial position. This allowed me to take up a post in the Netherlands with the same Irish consultancy, working with Microsoft. I now get to be home every weekend. I get to be at home now with my two sons more often as they now head into the teenage years. Daithi is now 14 and Oisin is 11.

“I've now started a new life with my new partner. It has been a rollercoaster ride taking in five different countries, but I am looking to the future positively. Emigration has been challenging, but also very rewarding; a seminal stage in my life.”

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