Returned emigrant: ‘You don’t go home for a salary, you go home for family’
Michael John Winters arrived home from Canada last week with his wife and their dog
‘I fell asleep on the flight and woke up and the flight map told us we were over Belmullet, and I thought, oh God, there’s no going back now.’
Like many Irish people who have emigrated over the past eight years, the couple have deicided to make the journey back to Ireland before their lives became too embedded in their adoptive countries overseas.
The Generation Emigration Survey, a major poll conducted for The Irish Times by Ipsos MRBI, has found that almost two-thirds of Irish people living abroad who have left since 2008 plan to return to Ireland to live "at some stage in the future".
Winters had been working as a vet in a private clinic in Mayo before he left in 2011 with his then girlfriend to gain more experience at a small animal emergency clinic in Yorkshire. “I left the job in Mayo of my own volition, but the recession did slow things. When disposable income is low, that can be correlated with the care people are going to give their pets,” he says.
The job was a steep learning curve, but he got great experience. When the couple’s qualifications were accepted in Canada in 2013, they moved to Toronto where Winters found work at a 24-hour emergency clinic “with better facilities than some human hospitals would have”.
“Toronto is a great place to live. There are so many outdoor activities, and the Irish community is really thriving. There are a lot of people out there who had come because they had heard stories from friends or seen photos on Facebook and Snapchat of the craic. The visas are easy to get and it is not too far away from home.
“The lawyer who processed my visa is from Mullingar, there were Irish guys building houses in our area, my wife had an Irish hairdresser. The Irish are an integral part of the community.”
The couple got engaged during their first Christmas in Toronto, and were married back in Ireland last August. Winters’ company was eager to sponsor him for permanent residency or citizenship, so a decision had to be made about whether to stick or split, he says.
“We were renting a nice house and owned two cars. We just loved it. But you don’t have the family support. We’re a young couple and we are hoping to have a child some day. I’m an only child so that was hard on my parents, and hard on me too; any time I heard something had happened at home I was worried. We had reached a point where we had to decide, is this it forever now, or do we pack up our bags and go home?
“A lot of the Irish people we knew were starting to move home, especially if they had an Irish partner and they were getting towards marriage or having kids. I played GAA and a few lads on the team had already left. There is definitely a trend.”
He thinks the main reason people are deciding to move back is to be closer to family.
“I haven’t heard too many saying they came back for a great job,” he says. “I was listening to the Marion Finucane Show on the RTÉ Radio app over there and she was interviewing people who had returned. The message they gave was the same as I felt: you don’t go home for a salary, you go home for family.”
He doesn’t expect the move to be easy, and says he is nervous about how their “calculated gamble” will work out.
“I fell asleep on the flight and woke up and the flight map told us we were over Belmullet, and I thought, oh God, there’s no going back now. Everyone asks what I’m worried about, sure don’t you have your family and friends? But we cashed our lives in and have to start again from scratch here. We’ve been away five years, the country has changed, and we don’t have a profile here professionally. We’re not known among the vets in Ireland. We have to break into that circle again.
“There is a certain amount of pressure too, you have to be seen to be making progress, to be getting a job and a house and a car. We went to England and progressed, and then Canada and progressed there too. You don’t want to come home and be sitting on the sidelines for six months. My dad has a farm so he will be happy for me to be here to help on the farm making silage and hay.
“Things are more volatile economically here, but we are young enough that we can be flexible to meet that challenge I hope.”
This article forms part of the coverage of the Generation Emigration Survey 2016, a major poll conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of The Irish Times.