‘I wanted to die in Ireland’: The late-in-life homecomings
How Aideen, Mary, Donal and Leo came home, helped by Safe Home Ireland
Karen McHugh, chief executive of Safe Home Ireland, with Aideen Archbold. Photograph: Tom Honan
Aideen Archbold, an elegant and eloquent woman in her 70s, is on a hunt for the best cup of coffee in Dublin. Having spent almost her entire adult life living in Rome, where she travelled to learn Italian soon after finishing her education in Dublin, she has honed her appreciation of the drink, and is exacting in her standards.
As she name-checks the coffee shops that she likes, and dismisses others, perched in an armchair in her smart, comfortable flat in Dublin 8, it’s hard to imagine that just a couple of years ago she found herself physically unwell, unable to earn a living, and facing a very uncertain future in the Italian capital.
Having worked as a radio presenter with Vatican Radio and Voice of America, as well as doing voiceovers and some translation work, Archbold’s whole working life was spent in Rome, and she was very happy there.
“I lived in one of the best areas of the city, literally the centre of the city,” she says, reminiscing about her time spent enjoying the company of friends and indulging her love of music and theatre. “That was my life. Where I lived was brilliant.”
Yet in 2015 Archbold decided it was time to return to Dublin.
“I hadn’t been well for a number of years, and we couldn’t find out what was wrong with me, and because I wasn’t well, financially I needed to. I really was quite desperate.”
With limited finances and no knowledge of how to begin the process of securing accommodation in the country of her birth, Archbold, rented a room in a shared house on Dublin’s north side, where she grew up, paying €600 a month for it.
“Friends had put money into an account, a whole gang of them, so that I’d have enough to live on for six months. I am frankly the luckiest person in the world with friends.”
The organisation, an emigrant support service based in Mulranny, Co Mayo, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, was set up originally to help older Irish people working abroad to come home to Ireland, and has expanded its activities to “provide an information and advisory service for anyone considering a move to Ireland” as well as for support for “those who having moved back, require assistance”.
Safe Home Ireland guided Archbold through the process of applying for social housing, as well as putting her forward for consideration by housing associations working with older people in need of accommodation.
It was a hands-on process, with Archbold travelling by bus from Dublin to Mulranny to meet support staff, and outreach workers from Safe Home travelling to Dublin to assist her with the considerable amount of paperwork required to process her applications.
In November 2015, almost six months after her return to Ireland, Archbold was successful in securing a one-bedroom flat in a supported housing scheme in Dublin 8 run by the charity Alone.
“And I couldn’t be happier. I can’t believe that I am here,” she says with a broad smile.
Providing practical assistance to older emigrants such as Archbold who want to return to Ireland is the backbone of Safe Home Ireland’s work, but the organisation’s remit has widened since it was set up in 2000 by Mulranny GP Dr Jerry Cowley, who is its current chairman.
Karen McHugh, chief executive, says that the organisation’s fulltime staff of four – including co-ordinator Mary Ann Fadian and outreach and advocacy officers Brenda Fleming and Noreen Mulrine – also make their expertise and assistance available to anyone, regardless of age, who is either planning a return to Ireland or experiences difficulties while doing so.
According to McHugh, who joined Safe Home Ireland in May 2015 from Doras Luimní, a human rights NGO based in Limerick where she had been chief executive since 2009, the transition doesn’t always go smoothly.
Sometimes Safe Home staff find themselves “dealing with crisis situations, such as when people come home and things don’t work out”. In this regard the current rental accommodation crisis is a recurring issue.
McHugh has lived in London, and was a director of London-based Brent Irish Advisory Service for more than 10 years, so she is familiar with the difficulties returning emigrants face.
“The emotional impact of coming home is significant. If you’ve been living abroad, and you’re coming home to Ireland, you might as well look on it as coming to a new country.”
But the practical hurdles are significant too, and much of the organisation’s resources are directed at providing a helping hand when it is most needed, as these three returned emigrants explain.
Leo Peppard: home to Ballyhaunis from Australia
“I always said I wanted to die in Ireland; I didn’t want to die in a foreign land, Australia or Canada, ” says Leo Peppard, who has lived abroad in both countries, spending more than 40 years in Geraldton, Western Australia. “I’m no spring chicken. I’m 80 next year, though I don’t look it or act it. I’m very fit.”
Peppard left Ireland in 1969, going to the UK initially.
“I left Ireland for the UK, and on to Australia; it was only £10 [to fly] from England to Australia, and there wasn’t hardly an Irishman in England that didn’t take advantage of that.”
In Australia he worked as a bus driver, was a superintendent in the St John’s Ambulance, and became president and chairman of Geraldton’s Irish Club. He also found time for painting and model boat and railway building.
“My two sisters here in Dublin mentioned Safe Home to me. They were always asking ‘when are you coming home?’ because I was getting older.”
In April last year Peppard arrived back in Ireland for good, to a new home secured with the assistance of the organisation. Unlike most returnees, who apply for housing in the area of their birth, Peppard, who is from Inchicore, went to live in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo.
He was accompanied home by his dog Paddy, and not all housing associations accept pets so his choices were dictated by that.
“I’d hate to tell you what it cost to bring him over,” he says of his canine friend. “I had no change out of Aus$4,000. He’s 10 years old now, and everybody loves him.”
Peppard is full of praise for Safe Home Ireland. “They were fantastic, I’d never have done it without them. Not only did they help with the house, they helped with all the other things, things I didn’t know about, like getting the medical card, the free TV licence.”
Despite his unblemished record as a bus driver in Australia, Peppard is having difficulty getting motor insurance in Ireland, but is still keen to get back on the road. “Mary Ann [Fadian] is trying to get my licence now because my Australian one is up in January. I could never have done that without her. Time is nothing for her, and that goes for all the staff. They’re really good.”
* Since this article was researched Leo Peppard died suddenly in hospital. We reproduce this interview with permission from his family.
Mary Hurley: back in Lahinch after 60 years in London
“I left school at 16 and joined my aunt in London. My first job was in the rag trade, cutting up swatches,” says Mary Hurley, from Lahinch, Co Clare. She subsequently spent 60 years in the fashion business in the city, rising through the ranks and travelling extensively in her role as a buyer and textiles specialist.
“I used to travel to Paris and New York, to see the new things for the next season. You wouldn’t copy it exactly, but you’d get ideas from it.”
Well into her 70s, Hurley was still driving into the West End to her job. But when the company she worked for went into liquidation three years ago, she decided to return to Ireland.
With a flat of her own to sell in London, Hurley wasn’t in need of housing assistance, but by her own admission she found the process of selling and buying again in Lahinch difficult, and relied on help from Safe Home Ireland’s outreach officers.
“I’m useless with paperwork – anything with colours and fabrics, I’m fine, that was my job. But there was so much paperwork, even though mine was a cash buy.”
Safe Home also put Hurley in contact with a reputable removals company, and continued to assist with the process of buying her new flat in Lahinch, which she moved into last August, having arrived back in Ireland in the spring.
“I’ve got my own place right in the middle of Lahinch. It’s a nice little block of flats and it’s very friendly here.”
Hurley is grateful for the help she has received with Safe Home. “I phoned them up in desperation because I didn’t think they would look after the likes of me as I’ve got my own place, but it’s for everybody.”
Donal McGlynn: Castleisland is home again
“I was coming up to retiring in 2016 – the work has changed now, and London’s getting too busy – so I was thinking to myself, well, what am I going to do?”
Having worked in the construction trade in the city since he was 15, McGlynn began to think about returning to his native Castleisland, Co Kerry, where his 94-year-old mother lives, and where he is part of a large extended family.
“I heard about Safe Home Ireland from a friend that went to the Irish Centre in Camden Town. I wrote to them looking for a place to come back to. I didn’t think I’d get a place so quick, and they’d be so helpful.
“They helped me with all the paperwork, my accounts, my doctors, the medical card and the TV licence.”
Now that he is back in Ireland, living in a housing scheme in Castleisland for older people, going dancing regularly, and taking his mother out for drives, is there anything he misses about his former life in London?
“Well, I suppose I miss the work. I would have done another year or two, but the traffic in London was unbelievable – I was driving a company van...I’m glad to be back. Life has slowed down. I’m 67 now.”
For more information on Safe Home Ireland, see safehomeireland.com