Returning to Ireland isn’t a realistic option for many of us emigrants
When we first leave, few of us think we are going for good. Time changes all that.
‘I’ve known several families who’ve taken the plunge, gone back, only to head back Down Under, disillusioned and with a hit to their hip pocket and pride.’
The very best of luck to Jennifer O’Connell and her family, on their decision to head back to the Auld Sod after a sojourn in Silicon Valley. I’m looking forward to reading her nuanced accounts on life back in Ireland.
But being able to return isn’t always a realistic option for many of us migrants. This emigration caper can be complicated. It was no great surprise that Colm Tobin’s Brooklyn struck such a chord with so many people. When we leave, things can take on a life of their own. We often have no choice but to make the best of whatever’s at hand. And while we’re away, our collective rear vision mirrors can get a tad opaque and downright unreliable.
This middle-aged migrant, doubtless like so many others, hasn’t soared to an orbit anywhere near the Silicon Valley. But, all things considered, I feel incredibly lucky to be living in a beautiful part of rural Tasmania, even if it seems a million miles from Mullingar. I wouldn’t qualify as one of those successful “Wild Geese” that often feature in the Irish Times Abroad section. What I am sure of is that it would take a lot more than a hashtag and yes, even a semi-decent job offer to bring this migrant back to Ireland.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter about leaving, far from it. Sanguine is a more apt description. Mine is more akin to a dimming nostalgia. My journey that began with such wide-eyed naiveté has had an unremarkable trajectory - from donning a cleaner’s uniform and wielding a mop and bucket to eventually working as a psychiatric nurse with a few minor diversions thrown in along the way.
I can’t complain about my life in Australia. I have even married an Australian and I feel incredibly privileged to be a father. Most of the doors I’ve tentatively tapped on here have swung open and for that I’ll always be grateful. Emigrating has given me the benefit of being able to experience two cultures, and I think this adds an extra layer to our way of seeing things.
This weighing up of the pros and cons of returning to Ireland that often hangs over us, especially during those early years, is unavoidable. If we don’t fold our cards within a decade, most of us are unlikely ever to return. I imagine, when they first leave, few migrants ever think they are going for good. There may be the occasional exception, but that’s it, an exception.
It still jolts me to be reminded that a baptism certificate has to be produced in Ireland for a child to be enrolled at school. There is something disquieting about embedding religion so closely into an education system. So much for a brave new secular society and a church that’s supposedly in retreat in Ireland, and so much for Ireland being up there on an equal footing with the rest of modern Europe. Perhaps my surprise is all the more so because religion has never attained a de rigueur status anywhere in Australian society.
By electing to live abroad, we get to keep Ireland at arm’s length, and we will always continue to do so despite the immediacy and convenience of social media. Anyhow, I suspect most people at “home” have scant regard for the opinions of those of us who’ve left. When you slip out of the tent, your two bob’s worth rapidly loses its relevance.
I’ve known several families who’ve taken the plunge, gone back, only to head back Down Under, disillusioned and with a hit to their hip pocket and pride.
Perhaps, somewhere deep down, I’m a tad envious of Ms O’Connell. But that sentiment is so deep down now that it hardly counts. Not today anyway, and probably not tomorrow or next week, come to think of it.
I’ve let Ireland go. Like the ghosts of my parents, it’ll always be there. And there will always be a next time when I’ll head over for a brief while.
Philip Lynch is a regular contributor to Irish Times Abroad from his home in Tasmania. Read more of his articles here.