Moving against the tide from Australia to Ireland
People couldn’t understand why I had made the move but I had the time of my life in Ireland, writes Marina Pliatsikas
‘I know my memories of Ireland are rather rose tinted. I chose to be there; unlike many of the tens of thousands of Irish now living in Australia, I hadn’t had to make any tough decisions to leave family and friends on the other side of the world because my home country could not offer me financial stability.’
On an evening back in 2013, I was queuing up for the bathroom in a small but packed Donegal pub when I found myself cornered by a girl who must have overheard my accent as I chatted with a friend. Bringing her face within 15 centimetres of mine, she stared into my eyes and hissed “Are you Australian? I hate Australia. ”
After seeing what must have been a look of pure terror on my face, she immediately softened.
“It just... steals all of my friends,” she continued, slumping against the wall next to me. Thus began my 14 months of living in Ireland, a journey in the opposite direction to that which so many Irishmen and women travel each year.
Even with the latest figures reported by The Irish Times which show Irish emigration to Australia fell 43 per cent in 2014, the land of Oz continues to be the second most emigrated-to country in the world for Irish-born nationals (second only to the UK).
As an Australian, moving to Ireland was an undertaking I pursued partly to try and understand more about this country that sends so many of its young people down under, including my partner, who had moved there two years previously.
Ireland was a place I quickly fell in love with. There were certainly cultural adjustments I fumbled through ungracefully at times - like the first time someone sharply inhaled a “yih” noise at me in response to a question I’d asked (I think I replied with “bless you”), and the time a friendly stranger invited me to take a swig from her bottle of West Coast Cooler at a Nathan Carter concert (I think I accepted).
After catching my first glimpse of a hurling match on TV, I soon found myself running around swinging my own hurl with the local camogie team. The only other antipodean was a girl from New Zealand, who was equally baffled trying to figure out how exactly to catch a sliotar travelling at 210km per hour without breaking a finger.
And I’ll never forget the moment I walked into a tiny country pub somewhere between Sneem and Kenmare to find 100-odd people fixated on the National Ploughing Championships televised on large screens around the room. I ordered a pint and took a seat to watch the action.
I was extremely lucky to find a job with a Dublin dance company, and experienced some of the most indescribably beautiful moments of my life in Ireland; from summer days spent camping and cycling around the craggy and dramatic coastline of Achill Island, to the half marathon I completed in the Wicklow Mountains, and the chilly, sunny strolls along Dun Laoghaire pier during my lunch breaks throughout winter.
But I know my memories of Ireland are rather rose tinted. I chose to be there; unlike many of the tens of thousands of Irish now living in Australia, I hadn’t had to make any tough decisions to leave family and friends on the other side of the world because my home country could not offer me financial stability.
Indeed, the question I got most consistently during my stint in Ireland always went something along the lines of “Jaysus love, what on earth are you doing here?” It always disappointed me, not because I thought I had made some sort of mistake by choosing to live there, but because the question itself implied that Irish people had so little faith in the country in which they were born and raised that they questioned why anyone would bother coming at all.
Having come from a place that does not experience such mass emigration to far-flung countries around the world (save for the handful of Aussies that find themselves scattered through places like London, the USA or Southeast Asia), I couldn’t even pretend to understand what it must be like for generations of educated, ambitious and intelligent young people to feel as though there’s no better choice but to up and leave.
Yet having an Irish partner, I know that moving abroad does not suddenly fix everything either. Life doesn’t always necessarily become a montage of beach parties, weekly trips to neighbouring New Zealand and Bali, and large AUD pay cheques raining down from the sky. The sunny photos on social media, tagged with captions like #livingthedream, sometimes serve as a thin veil over the heartache that comes with missing out on things like seeing a new family member being born, or the longing to be arm in arm with loved ones at the pub in December, wearing fuzzy Christmas jumpers and shouting The Pogues songs at the top of your voice.
I know not everyone who moves does so out of desperation. It warms my heart every time I meet an Irish person in Australia who has made the move purely because they wanted to, and has found a great job, a solid support network and enviable lifestyle of having fun, travelling and earning enough to visit Ireland regularly.
Since returning to Sydney I’ve found myself missing aspects of life in Ireland more than I ever would have missed certain things about Australia, and there are plenty of good (and bad) habits I picked up during my time there that will stay with me for a lifetime.
“Grand-thanks-a-million-bye-now” has become my standard parting greeting, and cheese and onion crisps are an essential accompaniment to sandwiches at a picnic. The urge to seek out a stodgy Sunday roast dinner every weekend, even in the middle of summer, is still there, and the word “like” occasionally slips out accidentally at the end of my sentences.
I’ve joined a local Sydney GAA club to continue my camogie training, and among the team of wonderful girls I’ve found almost a kind of home away from home... at home.