Irish abroad return: ‘Dublin seemed more tired and stale this year’

Readers who came home from overseas at Christmas share their thoughts on Ireland

The Luas passing over O'Connell Bridge in Dublin city. Photograph: iStock

It’s January – the month where people’s lives return to normal after festive celebrations, reunions and fun. The time of the year when people hug their loved ones tight, wipe their tears and say goodbye at airports around Ireland as emigrants return to where they work and live overseas.

Irish Times Abroad asked Irish people living overseas what did they think of Ireland this year. Have things changed much since their last visit? Was this Christmas different to the last? Here are a selection of their responses:

Fiona Desmond, Melbourne: ‘I will always miss and yearn for Irish people’

The Ha'penny Bridge on Bachelors Walk in Dublin during last December. Photograph: iStock

Ireland was magic as always this Christmas. Ireland celebrates Christmas in the right way. It is rejoiced, enjoyed and embraced. There is optimism and kindness everywhere. Seeing family that you spend all year hoping to see again, you feel so lucky to be surrounded by them. Seeing friends is like old times. But it is the kindness everywhere that is striking. No matter how long I'm away for, I will always miss and yearn for Irish people.

Daniel Tone, Kalgoorlie: ‘We loved it ... it was a very special Christmas’

Families say farewell to their loved ones at Dublin Airport following their return home for Christmas.

I arrived on December 10th with my wife Orla to introduce our new daughter Isabelle to our parents and family. We had Isabelle in August after six years of IVF so it was a very special Christmas. We both live and work in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. We have worked in gold mining since 2012. I'm an electrical supervisor for Northern Star Resources and Orla is an Environmental Advisor at the Super Pit. I write this from Dublin Airport heading back on my own as Orla is staying on with Isabelle until the end of the January. This was our first time home at Christmas time since 2012 and we both loved it. All the towns and villages we saw made an effort and put lights on every tree. It felt like Christmas from the second we landed with carols in Dublin Airport when we landed and big fires lighting in every pub when you popped in for a quiet pint.


Jeni Brennan: ‘Homelessness has become more chronic’

Jeni Brennan

I come back four to five times annually, and was back for nine days over Christmas. I found this year that things felt a little muted. The weather seems to always be lovely in Dublin at Christmas for some reason, and, as ever, the parks and suburbs were glorious. But Dublin city centre is concerning me. Homelessness has become more chronic, the "Grafton Quarter" sign at St Stephen's Green is truly awful and has no Christmas spirit at all, and the pubs are becoming more and more generic. I've noticed lounge service is diminishing or withdrawn entirely from a few pubs. For a city and country that has progressed socially so much this decade, nothing is changing in Dublin city itself, and what it offers its visitors and returning visiting nationals. Belfast is a lot more diverse. There's a lot of vacant derelict buildings in Dublin too and that extends to the suburbs - Dundrum main street is a particular victim of this. The Luas has also deteriorated with lack of service, power cuts and packed crowded carriages. Buses are a lot better though. Compared to past Christmases I actually didn't feel so regretful to return home. There was something more tired and stale about Dublin this year, and I am hugely proud of Dublin and proud of being a Dubliner.

Clíodhna Puirséil, London: ‘I was devastated to be leaving this year’

I've been flying home for Christmas for 14 years now, first on my own, now with my English husband and two boys. All my Irish friends have returned home so Christmas is really hectic trying to catch up with them and family. The homelessness and "Celtic Tiger type spending" figures are depressing, but there is nowhere in the world like Dollymount Strand. I feel at home and free there. Things are so much more relaxed at home than in London. I was devastated to be leaving this year. Living in a Brexit stronghold on the edge of London has destroyed me, and the only thing stopping a move back is that getting jobs and mortgages would just be too hard. My boys have lost count of how many anti-Brexit marches they've been on and now we have no idea what we'll be coming home from next Christmas. Sad times.

Cora Farrell, Qatar: ‘Returning was difficult after having a good time at home’


This is my second year living in Qatar but my first Christmas returning to Ireland. Last year my parents came to visit me, which was different. So this year my boyfriend and I came home. It was great to be home catching up with family and friends, being reunited with my dog and meeting my cousin for the first time (pictured). You can’t beat the gatherings, craic and of course the Christmas dinner at home in Ireland. Even something as small as the cold weather gives the added Christmas feel. Returning to Qatar was difficult after having such a good time at home, but I just keep on reminding myself that soon everyone goes back to work and everything returns to normal. That being said, I can’t wait to get home for a visit again.

Louise O’Leary, Singapore: ’The green grass of home calls louder every year’


I've been living in Singapore for more than seven years. Luckily, I got to come home again this Christmas after bringing my partner back for the first time last year. Other years I've spent away I've had to create my own new traditions for Christmas having been in Bali or Vietnam for a trip, which takes a bit of research to find a place for a traditional dinner. Those experiences have been very special, but the excitement when landing at Dublin Airport at this time of year is almost magical as I walked into the arrivals area and saw all the reunions. This feeling has never faded for me over the years and every Christmas I get to spend in Ireland is really amazing, because the price to pay for living away is often missing out in sharing the simple moments with our loved ones. My hometown is Killarney, Co Kerry, and although little things change like a new cafe opening, or a painted wall,the atmosphere is still the same. Walking through the street on New Years Eve stopping every few minutes to share greetings with a friend or someone I know from the town. It's these moments that I miss, as it's way more unlikely I'll walk into a friend on the street in Singapore unless it's planned. This year is particularly tough going back having spent an amazing two weeks soaking up time with family and friends. I can't help but question how much longer I should stay away, and the pros and cons to both decisions. One thing is for sure, Ireland will always be home and the green grass of home calls louder every year.

Opeline Kellett, London: “The first time I’ve felt Ireland is bustling’

This was my first Christmas at home in seven years. I’ve worked in retail in London up until last year and getting home for a Christmas in Ireland wasn’t an option. But now I’m based in an office I finally I made it home, and I’d a particularly memorable time. Experiencing all of our family traditions once more, seeing our abundance of family friends across multiple drinks parties and soaking up all of the Christmas cheer was truly special. It was also the first time I’ve really felt an Ireland that is bustling. I left Ireland in the height of the recession. It was a bleak period with high streets feeling empty, and constant doom and gloom in the media. As a then, 19-year-old I wanted out. This Ireland that I came back to is prospering, Grafton Street is booming, and so was Navan shopping centre. It was a confident Ireland that I returned to this December and finally, once more, there was an overwhelming feeling of self belief. This was an Ireland that I wanted to spend time in and one I was really sad to leave behind. I think 2020 could be an incredible year for our beautiful nation and I’m sad, for the first time since I left, to be watching from afar.

Desmond Ross: ‘Christmas is a return to childhood’


I left Ireland at the age of 16 to Australia with my parents and have been back on visits several times since then. Now, my wife and I are back since September with the intent of remaining in semi-retirement. It's a long time since we've had a winter Christmas and it's been really good, like a return to childhood in some respects. It seems much more natural than the Christmas in Australia during the hot months of the year. The festive atmosphere in the streets, shops and pubs is really great. Although we did, of course, miss many of our friends and relatives in Australia, particularly this year with the catastrophic bushfires which have directly affected may of our friends in south-east Australia. We definitely prefer the cooler climate and are even enjoying the rain! I hope we will stay but have to concur with many of your other correspondents that the Irish Government does not make it easy for returning Irish citizens.

Amy Naughton, The Netherlands: ‘My hometown is the same but people are different’


Coming home for Christmas is always tough. This year has been tough so having family far away can be difficult. My hometown Navan seemed the same as always, the only difference was the people. Lots has changed in the past year as we are getting older. It always hard to leave behind the overwhelming friendliness that Irish people are known for – that is a big difference between Ireland and other countries. I did have my doubts but living abroad is important for me to gain new experiences and opportunities. I do miss Ireland and maybe will return one day. Being abroad truly makes you appreciate the beautiful friendly island we come from.

Emily Horgan, London: ‘I’ve sure we’re making the right decision to move back’

Emily Horgan: 'This year I visited Dublin for Christmas for the last time'

This year I visited Dublin for Christmas for the last time. My imminent move back with my husband and my young son in the new year means that the repetitive slog of “heading home” comes to an end. The overriding feeling I have, which has surprised me, is relief– a deep, heart heaving relief. I hadn’t realised that there was this pressure. The irony is now we start the process in reverse, with our ties with in laws and close friends around London firmly committing us to continue the commuter lifestyle. Arriving back to London this year, I’ve never been so sure that we’re making the right decision. We’ve had a ball while living here but it’s no place to raise a child with sirens periodically blaring and puffs of weed greeting you around street corners. It’s much better as a weekend destination of high life with the bub safely nestled back in Dublin with our fantastic family and friends.

Sylvia Brennan, US: ‘I’m heartbroken not knowing when we will see each other again’

Have been living abroad since January 2012 and this was our first Christmas home since then . I had the best Christmas in years getting to spend it with all my family, it meant everything to me. My brother was home from Australia too so it meant that our whole family were together for Christmas . We flew back to the United States yesterday and today I'm heartbroken to be so far away from them again not knowing when we will see each other again. It's sad. My kids even said they'd love to live in Ireland.

Anna Convery-Pelletier, Cobb County, US: ‘Crazy, fun times ... it was good to be home’

This year we were all back home at “The Rock” for Christmas. We’re now a crazy bunch of 25. We celebrated birthdays, babies and loved ones no longer with us. I now realise it is more rewarding to be able to give my sons the chance to experience “home home” and make memories with my parents than any other gift I can give. What 21-year-old or 19-year-old college student can ever forget their almost 80-year-old grandparent teaching them “25” the card game, and then beat them, or their grandmother doing a midnight “whoop whoop” dance fuelled by Pinot Grigio! Crazy, fun times forever sealed in happy memories. It was good to be home.

Sheila O’Sullivan Campion, Vannes: ‘It was all about catching up with family’

Sheila O’Sullivan Campion with her family.

I have been living in France for almost 17 years now, having come for just one year back in 2003. I am based in Vannes in Brittany, a lovely town on the coast. I went home to Ireland for Christmas with my husband and two children. In all my time here in France I think I've only spent three Christmasses in France. It's linked to the nostalgia of Christmas "at home" in Ireland. Christmas this year was quite similar to other years, all my family were there in my parents' house in Greystones – 18 of us around the Christmas table. It was all about catching up with family as some of us are living abroad (my brother lives in Switzerland). It's great to have some time to sit down and eat meals, play card games, and just generally chat about everything and nothing. I think Ireland has changed a good bit since I left in 2003, with different phases including the boom years and then the recession years. But apart from economic changes some things have remained the same, including the warmth of the Irish people. When you live away from home especially in a country that is culturally very different like France, the natural friendliness of Irish people will always shine through, especially when you come back after a long time being away.