My first Christmas back in Ireland: ‘Best decision I ever made’

More Irish emigrants are moving home. They tell us how they’ve found it

Geraldine Pender: “Our move back to Ireland has been bittersweet. We are loving being close to family and our old friends, the kids have settled well in school but we miss Oman.”

Irish emigrants are returning to live in Ireland in increasing numbers, with tens of thousands moving back this year. What has the experience been like for them so far, and what are they most looking forward to about their first Christmas back home?

Geraldine Pender: “My husband is still in Saudi but will be home for two weeks”

After living in the Middle East for four years, my three children and I moved back to live in the Gaeltacht area of Waterford in August. We had been considering the move for a while, as we wanted our son to attend secondary school in Ireland. In the end the decision was made for us when my husband, Gary, was transferred to Saudi Arabia.

We moved to Qatar in 2013 to join Gary, who had emigrated there to find work. I was pregnant with our third child. It was a difficult time, as he worked late hours as a fit-out manager on a palace for the Qatari royal family. I used to question my decision, but we eventually settled and made great friends.

In 2015 we moved to Muscat, in Oman. We loved the outdoor lifestyle, friendly locals and breathtaking scenery. We lived in an old-style villa in a sleepy compound with a shared pool, tennis courts and a lovely big garden.


Our move back to Ireland has been bitter-sweet. We love being close to family and our old friends, and the kids have settled well at school, but we miss Oman and our group of Muscateers, whom we grew to love like family.

Gary is still working in Saudi, but he will be home for two weeks over Christmas. His father passed away during the summer, so it will be difficult for Gary, his mother and his three sisters. We will host Christmas for all of them at our house, and my parents too. All our family are very excited to have us home for the first Christmas since 2012.

Geraldine McGettigan: ‘We had always felt a strong pull towards home but when our first child Méabh was born in March this year, it was a ‘now or never’ moment.’

Geraldine McGettigan: “We are looking forward to our first Christmas in our own home with our little Kiwi girl”

We moved home to Kerry from Christchurch in New Zealand in late July. I had been living there since 2011, and my partner, Brian, had been away since 2003. We had always felt a strong pull towards home, but when our first child, Méabh, was born, in March this year, it felt like a now-or-never moment.

It wasn’t an easy decision; we both had great jobs, and it was very hard to leave our family and friends out there. It has been a challenging five months of car shopping, applying for jobs, and house hunting, but things are finally starting to settle down.

This will be our first winter Christmas in a very long time, so we’ve been really enjoying the festive atmosphere and the lovely lights around town. After a hectic year in which we had a baby, moved halfway around the world and bought a house, we are very much looking forward to putting our feet up in front of the fire with a glass of New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc, and enjoying our first Christmas in our own home with our little Kiwi girl.

Josh Crosbie: “I have travelled, and now it is time to focus on my career”

I am from Kerry, and my partner is from Cork. We moved to Sydney in September 2013, with the intention of staying a year, but like many others our plans changed, and it turned into nearly four.

After getting sponsored with a construction company, and with only a few months left until I could get residency, the company went bust on March 16th this year. We had 90 days to get sponsored by another employer or leave the country. We moved home in June.

I have travelled, and now it is time to get back to the books and focus on my career goals. My partner is now living and working in Cork, and in September I moved in with family in Dublin and started a master’s, with the hope that I can get back into working in the media again, which is what my degree is in. My partner and I are living separately, as we could not afford to rent our own place.

We built strong relationships in Australia that were hard to leave behind. When we returned we found the majority of people our age had emigrated themselves, mostly to Sydney, New York or London. It is not that I expected people to still be here, but it’s hard to accept how much of a vacuum of young people there is now.

Compared with 2013 there is noticeably more work available in a range of sectors, but in rural Kerry, where I come from, I have not seen much change. There are more people from my hometown living in Dublin than there are back there.

With the economy showing good signs of recovery, I have noticed a very festive buzz around the shops this Christmas. We were lucky to come back for one Christmas while we were living abroad, but being here in the run-up to the big day is even more rewarding, to help with collecting the family Christmas tree or ordering the turkey – things I was not a part of for a few years. This year I will be standing on the opposite side of the arrivals barrier in Dublin Airport, and it will be just as special, if not more.

Martina Carr: ‘We moved back to be closer to family.’

Martina Carr: “A taxi driver predicted I’d be miserable here”

My partner and I moved back to Ireland this year after seven years in Australia, to be closer to family and to start our own home when we get settled. We took five months to travel on the way, landing in November.

Most people thought we were crazy to move back in winter, but we were lucky that it was mild to begin with. So far we have loved the Christmas lights, the banter you don’t get away, spending time with family and friends, and not having to rush our time with them.

The admin involved in setting up our lives again here has been the toughest part, but we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so we are getting on with it. We’re excited by the Christmas festivities but will miss my sister and her kids and partner, who are still in Australia. My folks still hope she will move home one day, although she’s been away 12 years now.

I was back only three days when a taxi driver told me I was mad, that I’d make no money and predicted I’d be miserable here. But the saying is true: there really is no place like home – and no amount of sun, sea and surf can keep me away any more.

Andrea Lydon: “I’m home, free, happier than I have been in years”

I moved to the UK to do my master’s in Glasgow. Seven years later, after living in Basingstoke, Reading and Cornwall, I finally was able to move home in September, after an entire year looking for a suitable job in Dublin.

Words can’t express how it feels to be back among family and friends. I have three young nephews and a year-old niece, and the possibility of being able to see them at least once a month is the best feeling in the world.

While in the UK I got into an unhealthy relationship and became very isolated from my friends and family. On more than one occasion there was a Christmas holiday back to Ireland cancelled after an argument. It was my friends that helped me get out of that situation, and I’ll forever be grateful to them. Now I’m home, free, happier than I have been in years, and able to share Christmas with the most important people in my life again. Moving back is the best decision I have ever made.

Kate O’Brien: “My 83-year-old dad with dementia was my foremost reason for coming back”

After 11 years in England the time finally came to move home. My 83-year-old dad with dementia, who is being cared for by my 73-year-old mam, was my foremost reason for coming back. Leaving my gang of friends in London was difficult, but overall it has been a very positive move.

It has been a hectic year – moving country, starting a new job and getting married (in an Irish monastic settlement to my English husband, who I dragged over with me) – but it has all been worth it. Being here for Mam and Dad, and making them laugh and smile, has been an absolute pleasure.

There have also been plenty of frustrations, challenges and tears. But with support from my patient and loving husband, and my great friends and family, the hard times haven’t been so bad.

The housing crisis and the lack of public transport have been frustrating, but they are outweighed by the many wonderful things that become especially evident after being away for so long, especially the friendliness, wit and banter that you don’t find often elsewhere.

Ciara Fitzpatrick: “I am not optimistic about my future in Ireland”

Owing to a lack of job opportunities at home, I moved to the UK in 2013 to become fully qualified in my field – and to pay off thousands of euro in postgrad loans – and came home for Christmas for about a fortnight every year. The excitement that built up in anticipation of flying home from London every December bordered on euphoric; the prospect of seeing my friends and family and being back home made all the stress and pressure of my life in the UK worth it.

This year, however, I feel very little. If Ireland is “the old sow that eats her farrow”, as Joyce said, then those of us who have returned to be eaten find ourselves pushed to the side of the table. Returning to Ireland has taught me that the Government appears to have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude towards returning emigrants.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that, as an Irish citizen who paid taxes here for six years before leaving, I might be able to receive advice, training, jobseeker’s allowance or tax credits while I searched for a job. But this has not been the case. I have been back for three months, and after many applications, tests, assessments and interviews I am lucky to have some work lined up for the year ahead.

I came back to be closer to friends and family, and I wouldn’t change my decision. But I am not optimistic about my future in Ireland in 2018.

Conail O Reilly: ‘Working and living abroad was fantastic but nothing compares to home.’

Conail O Reilly: “My friends who stayed have houses and cars”

After four years abroad, teaching in the Middle East and London, this will be the first time in a long time I’ve been able to enjoy the build-up to Christmas in Ireland. Working and living abroad was fantastic, but nothing compares to home.

My primary concern moving back was trying to get a foothold in the education sector and build my experience. As Christmas looms I’m glad to say I have achieved that, and I have a teaching job until May at least.

But I am now looking at my friends who have four years on me. Some have houses, secure jobs and new cars, and I am playing catch-up. My driving licence from Oman cannot be swapped; I have had to start from the beginning and complete the 12 mandatory lessons at huge expense. I have been waiting since August 20th for a test date. My wages have come down considerably, so I have had no option but to move back in with my parents in Cork, and am unable to meet friends regularly. It’s been a bit of a shock, but I was not expecting things to be easy.

Clodagh Counihan: ‘This is my first Christmas at home since the big move with my Scottish boyfriend in tow.’

Clodagh Counihan: “Leaving New Zealand was harder than emigrating”

This is my first Christmas in Dublin since the big move home with my Scottish boyfriend in tow. We were living away for seven years, mostly in New Zealand. Leaving there seemed like a much bigger deal than originally leaving Ireland. Everyone was emigrating then, I had no job to hand notice to, no significant relationship to end, and it wasn’t to “settle” anywhere.

Leaving New Zealand was a much more daunting prospect. We had built a life there, with friends who treated us like family, good jobs we enjoyed, colleagues we loved and may not get to see again, and the sun. It was hard, but settling back has been a breeze. We are lucky to have supportive friends and family who have been so generous in helping us set up.

This week, while walking down Grafton Street early one evening with the biting cold, the dark, the sparkling lights and a busker singing beautiful music, a moment of realisation that I’m home for good hit me. It felt awesome.

Fionnuala Nig Shamhráin: “I’m back living with my parents”

I lived and worked in Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates, for a year, and moved home in July. I had an unfinished PhD calling my name, my career break was up, and I couldn’t bear being away from my niece.

I love being back in Dublin, but, living back with my parents while I wait to be able to afford a house of my own, I can’t help feeling inadequate and juvenile, after having so much independence and freedom abroad. I really miss the heat, too; this is the coldest I’ve felt in a long time.

It feels like taking three steps backwards after being only two steps ahead. But home will always have its charm, and it’s where I belong. More and more of my generation are coming back – but back to something a little unfamiliar. At least we have that in common.