Returning to Ireland: Adjusting socially and emotionally

Many returning emigrants find it much more difficult to settle back into life at 'home' than they expect

Emigrants often develop an idealised memory of Ireland, but the country to which they return can be vastly different. According to the Returning to Ireland brochure prepared by the Crosscare Migrant Project, a Dublin based advisory service offering support to returning emigrants, it is important to remember that a lot will have changed in your absence, and even those who have visited regularly may not be prepared for how different day-to-day life is now, especially if they’ve been abroad for a decade or longer.

Retuned emigrants who have shared their experiences with Generation Emigration have often expressed surprise at how difficult they found it to settle back.

Despite what many may think, visits home can be build false expectations of what life would be like back in Ireland. The readjustment period can be greatly helped by a fulfilling social life, but some people can find it difficult to slip back into a circle of friends. Old pals might have moved abroad themselves, or to a different region in Ireland. Others may have a family now, and socialise less.

“Fitting in” can also involve a conscious silencing of the experiences which shaped emigrants during their time abroad, and this can be disheartening and upsetting for those who are unprepared for it. Even close friends and family can seem disinterested in their overseas experiences.


“There’s also something a little special about being Irish abroad,” says Noreen Bowden, former director of the Emigrant Advice Network, and author of, an online resource for the Irish diaspora. “Friends look out for each other that little bit more because everyone is far from family, for example. When you come home, that changes, and that takes some getting used to.”

Born in New York to Irish parents, Bowden has moved back and forth between Ireland and the US several times. She says that settling back into Irish society after time lived abroad is certainly not as easy as many expect.

“Migration of any sort is unsettling. One woman once said to me that once you leave somewhere and start living somewhere else, it's impossible to feel at home again, ever. I think I know what she meant - you feel the gravitational pull of the other place.

“Once you've moved, you've taken away the notion that there's a place where you naturally belong, because it's where you've always lived. There are those who fit right in again, but many people have said it takes about a year to start feeling at home again, and some people never settle.”

In his recent article for Generation Emigration about the emotional impact of returning to Ireland, Fr Alan Hilliard, who works with immigrants and returned Irish emigrants in Dublin, said: "The only advice one can give is don't expect things to be the same as they were before you left. It'll only cause heartbreak and disappointment."

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine