Returning from California after 26 years: My Irish friends say ‘Don’t do it’
Life in Orange County is filled with sun and sea, but my priorities have changed as I’ve got older
Mark Czerwin: ‘I’ve had a good run of it here in the OC, but as I’ve grown older my priorities have changed; I’m less materialistic and more enthusiastic about living in a culture where people know and care about each other.’
I left my home in Clontarf in Dublin for Orange County, California in 1988, aged 22. I had an American girlfriend who I had met in Phoenix Arizona, during one of my summer trips to make money on a J1 while studying for my engineering degree at Trinity.
Back then, I was attracted to her liveliness and fun-loving nature. To me, Irish girls in the 80s seemed somewhat dull in comparison. The job market was not great then either, and that combined with the dreary weather and decaying Dublin city made me make the move.
I had no idea how hard it would be for the first few years to live away from family and friends in a strange environment, but I worked hard, made some friends, got married and had two kids.
Over the years I would always come back to Dublin at least once a year, but that just seemed to stir my homesickness for the dirty old town. It was always heart wrenching to hear about my friends getting together and having the craic. This only got worse with the advent of social media, when I started to see photos of what I was missing.
But I tried to put Ireland out of my mind and focus on my life here; the fantastic weather and outdoor lifestyle we have in Southern California, the low cost of everything, and the variety and selection of goods available made being away from home seem worthwhile.
Now, I have just turned 50 and I’ve been divorced for 15 years. The kids are grown and doing their own thing. I have a girlfriend here, a nice house with a view, a three-car garage, boat, motorcycle, Mustang convertible, SUV, surfboards, snowboards and more possessions than I could ever need. Yes, it’s a good life, filled with sun and sea.
But… it’s a dog eat dog society. The reason people come to the US, and especially the west coast, is because they are ambitious go-getters. This can sometimes make them selfish and not very outgoing. Striking up a conversation with someone at a bar, or even talking to your neighbours can be a challenge.
After all these years I have some friends who I see occasionally, but it’s nothing like walking around to the local or going to a rugby game and meeting up with the lads. Orange County is an urban sprawl, there is no city centre where people gather. Instead there are shopping malls, and you have to drive everywhere. Getting around is difficult for older people, or even those who like the odd drink. Good luck finding a bar open past 10pm.
I think it’s time for a change. I’m weighing up two options: move back to Dublin, back to the family home to look after my aging mammy and grow old with my good friends. I would work for half what I get paid here and pay twice the price for most things, and my Irish friends say “Don’t do it”. But I don’t mind about these things anymore.
Plan B is to buy a yacht and cruise the world on a fixed income budget. I might do some online work part time, but for the most part I would sail from port to port, swimming, fishing and paddle boarding until I get too old to do it anymore and then I’ll return to Dublin.
Either way I’m starting to wrap things up here, selling my toys on Craigslist and eBay and putting the house on the market. I’ve had a good run of it here in the OC, but as I’ve grown older my priorities have changed; I’m less materialistic and more enthusiastic about living in a culture where people know and care about each other.
Since I’ve left, I’ve changed, Ireland’s changed and the OC has changed. Now I’m looking at things with a different perspective and what I’m looking at has also morphed. It’s time to act on that realisation.
For more about returning to Ireland, see articles by Lucy Michael, 'After I moved home to Ireland nothing felt normal', and Ceire Sadlier, 'Returning to Ireland has been a whirlwind of emotion'.
This article was submitted as an entry to the Generation Emigration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition, which is now closed. For more ‘Ireland and Me’ stories, click here.