Leaving Brexit Britain and emigrant guilt: Top 2017 stories from Irish Times Abroad

Terrorist attacks and natural disasters also prominent topics with readers overseas


It was a bizarre and unsettling year for the Irish living in Britain and the US in particular, as Donald Trump’s tightening of immigration laws in America and uncertainty over the impact of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union led many Irish in both countries to question their futures there. While only a few made it into the top-20 most-read list of Irish Times Abroad stories for the year, the volume of articles submitted by readers on both topics made them the defining themes of 2017.

Terrorist attacks and natural disasters were also very prominent topics on Irish Times Abroad this year, as readers based in affected locations around the world sent us eyewitness accounts and reaction to earthquakes in Italy and Mexico, hurricanes in Texas, and terrorist attacks in London, Manchester, Barcelona and New York, among other events. The Irish Times Abroad Network now consists of almost 30,000 Irish readers around the world who contribute their opinions, stories and reaction to events where they live. For more information or to join (for free), click here.

Thank you to everyone who contributed in 2017, or just read our stories. Here’s the list of the 10 most popular of the year.

1. St Patrick’s Day Quiz: 17 questions to test your Irishness

The most-read article of 2017 on Irish Times Abroad was not actually an article at all, but a quiz with 17 questions to test your Irishness, published on St Patrick’s Day. Do you have a genuine claim to Irish citizenship, or are you as Irish as soda bread biscotti? Click here to find out.

2. ‘I’m packing my bags today’: The Irish leaving Brexit Britain

Recruiters in London warned in August that the city was “haemorrhaging talent” as a result of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. It was announced in December that Irish nationals would not have to apply for residency rights to live in the United Kingdom after Brexit, but uncertainty has led many Irish to question their future in the country this year. Irish Times Abroad asked readers living there about their plans, and whether Brexit has had an impact.

3. ‘Will the guilt I feel for moving to Australia ever go away?’

Will Cullen’s life “couldn’t be better” in Australia. He has a wonderful wife, a gorgeous four-month-old baby girl, a good job, great friends, and a nice house. But a grey cloud of guilt for moving away from his family and friends in Ireland casts a shadow over his sunny life in Sydney. Comments under his article and on Facebook showed how much it resonated with other readers who share that feeling of guilt while living away.

4. ‘I knew if we stayed in Ireland we would struggle for the rest of our lives’

Unemployment at the end of 2017 is at a nine-year low of 6.1 per cent. Prospects for jobseekers are, on paper at least, better than they have been for almost a decade. But in the 12 months to April, 30,800 Irish people moved abroad. The figure is higher than the number that emigrated in 2010, when the recession was tightening its hold, and more than double the pre-crash 2006 figure of 15,300. Why are so many people still emigrating? Using a new story-sharing tool on irishtimes.com, we asked readers who had left the country since 2016 to share their reasons for going. We received dozens of contributions from emigrants living all over the world. Some left to experience life in a new place, but a considerable number of others mentioned high living costs and poor job prospects, especially outside Dublin, and particularly for graduates, as factors that have pushed them overseas. Read the selection of the responses we received here.


5. Burning out at work in Dublin, I quit and moved to Lisbon

“When I think back to my last six months in Dublin it’s hard not to acknowledge that I was burning out at work. Crazy busyness has become a status symbol. Being overstretched, overwhelmed, underslept, stressed, and flat-out have all become part of a language that reassures us we’re on the right path,” wrote Roisin Agnew in June, sharing her experience of moving to Lisbon where “the live-to-work attitude is almost entirely absent”. Her article, and the reaction to it from readers, prompted an in-depth series exploring the issue of burnout later in the year.

6. Returning from Australia, I barely recognise my hometown

“When I first winged my way to Australia, I had no inkling where it would lead. Or all the losses it would lead to. For me. For my future husband. For our future children. For our families,” wrote Sydney-based poet Anne Casey, in a beautiful piece about the emotional cracks that begin to appear, sometimes becoming chasms, the longer you spend living abroad. A second story by Casey about an exhibition telling the shocking histories of immigrant and marginalised children in Australia in the mid-19th century, including that of Bridget Falcarragh from Co Donegal, was also in the top-20 most-read list.

7. 54 Irish curses you won’t have learned in school

Native Irish-speaker (and Irish Times journalist) Éanna Ó Caollaí is often asked why Irish has no swear words or slang associated with it. “The answer of course is that it does, but such words and sayings are rarely, if ever, taught in our schools,” he writes, introducing a list of the 54 colourful Irish curses you would not have learned in the classroom. Our favourite? “Go ndéana an diabhal dréimire do chnámh do dhroma” (That the Devil will make a ladder out of your spine).

8. The five best things about living back in Ireland

“Living away from Ireland has given me a new appreciation for my country. What I once took for granted, I now see with new eyes,” Elaine Doyle wrote in July after returning from Australia, introducing her list of the five best things about living back in Ireland. Her article did particularly well as a positive counterpoint to a lot of the negativity on social media (and often in Irish Times Abroad articles) about the difficulties returning emigrants face when they move back, both bureaucratically and emotionally. Six months later, does she still feel the same, we wonder?

9. Working in mines in Oz, I saved enough for a home in Ireland

Would you buy your first home without ever having set foot in the property? A growing number of Irish emigrants are doing so in advance of moving home, including Darren Kane, a 29-year-old electrician living in Perth who purchased an apartment in Dublin this year using the money he has earned working in the mines in Western Australia. “The majority of Irish I know here are going home and are looking at properties. They have the funds to do it, especially after working in the mines,” he says. “For a lot of them, that was their goal, to come out here, do a couple of years in the mines, and go home and buy.” His interview formed part of an Irish Times Abroad series on “Finding a home at home”, including a how-to guide on applying for a mortgage in Ireland from abroad.

10. After a year back in Ireland, did we make the right choice?

After 16 years in Australia, James Parnell returned to Ireland in 2016 with his family and started writing a column for Irish Times Abroad about his experience settling back into Irish life. On his “returnoversary”, 12 months after moving home, he asked himself, did they make the right choice? “Maybe ‘emigrant’s ache’, that combination of guilt, homesickness or misplacement many emigrants feel, is replaced by ‘returnee’s doubt’. Did I do the right thing? Do I long for my old home?” he wonders. His conclusion? “The jury is still out.”

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