Visiting emigrants’ impressions: ‘The homelessness is shocking’
Readers who came home from abroad for Christmas share their thoughts on Ireland
John Kennedy: ‘ I’ve no desire to come home while the housing and healthcare situations are so bad.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
The Departures area in Irish airports have been especially busy this week as Irish people living abroad wave goodbye to family and friends and head back to their homes overseas after the Christmas break.
What did they think of Ireland this year? Have things changed much since their last visit? What did they enjoy most or like least? And did it change their mind about living abroad in any way? Irish Times Abroad asked them; here’s what some had to say.
John Kennedy, Nuremberg, Germany: ‘The homelessness problem is shockingly bad’
What struck me forcefully coming home for Christmas from Germany this year was the homelessness problem. This has been getting worse each year, but it really is shockingly bad now. There seemed to be far more homeless people in every area of Dublin.
I travelled down to Wexford afterwards to be with my family and I was heartened to see the economy in the southeast seems to have recovered; lots of previously boarded up businesses were open again. But talking to friends in Dublin about the cost of rent, and family members about the failings of the HSE, dampened my spirits again. I’ve no desire to come home while the housing and healthcare situations are so bad, and no desire to subject my German wife to Ireland’s crazy ideas about reproductive autonomy.
I really enjoyed meeting friends for a pint, and the atmosphere in Irish pubs can’t be matched, but my wallet definitely felt the difference in cost of living compared to Germany. I feel strongly that Ireland is not a particularly nice country to be a young person in, and feel alienated by how comfortable people are cutting their emigrants off from the democratic process.
Grainne Curtin, Hanoi, Vietnam: ‘There was a buzz that was missing during the recession’
This was my first Christmas in Ireland in seven years and my first visit in more than three years. There was definitely a different feel to Cork. There was this wonderful buzz that was missing during the recession; it really felt like things have got better. There are so many small businesses open that didn’t exist three years ago, and everyone seemed so positive about Cork. For the first time since I left home seven years ago, I was considering the possibility of returning home to live someday.
The run up to Christmas was a bit strange because it wasn’t the frosty cold that I remembered, but Christmas Day was perfect. Leaving again was hard, as always, but the amazing Irish hospitality was there, even when I was checking in to my Aer Lingus flight. I had made a mistake with my baggage allowance and instead of charging me, the wonderful Aer Lingus employee was so understanding and supportive. This just added to the faithful lump in my throat that exists whenever I visit Cork Airport.
Avril James, Jordan: ‘I see how difficult and expensive life is for my friends’
I move country every year and am currently living in Jordan, but would never dream of missing a Christmas at home. I love the buzz of the Arrivals hall in Dublin Airport, a decent cup of tea, and seeing my loved ones. But every time I come home, I see how difficult and expensive life is for my friends (we’re in our early 30s), especially in terms of car insurance, getting a mortgage or finding decent accommodation to rent. While I’ll always consider Ireland to be home, my quality of life abroad is much better than what I could have here.
Eric Wrafter, Nottingham, UK: ‘I was surprised by how expensive stuff is’
Loved it. It was good to see my entire family, and put the new girlfriend through it all. I was surprised by how expensive stuff is now, but then I’m Scrooge reborn.
Lynsey Maguire, New Zealand: ‘I definitely will not be making plans to move home’
I flew back to Ireland as a surprise for my first Christmas at home in five years. Christmas was amazing , it’s totally different to sitting on a beach having a barbecue, but I definitely will not be making any plans to move home any time soon. People are under enormous pressure to try to get onto the property ladder, there’s no work-life balance, and it was cold. Home will always be home but for now I’m happy to continue living the easy, happy kiwi lifestyle.
Ava, Canada: ‘You can forget what it was that brought you to move away in the first place’
The buzz you get as you collect your baggage and walk through the arrivals door at Christmas cannot be beaten. Seeing your loved ones waiting at the gate is pure joy. Hearing the Irish accents, having a good cup of tea and all the Cadbury’s, Tayto and other delicious Irish treats your heart desires, without having to spare them until the next visitors bring you more.
This is our sixth Christmas since leaving Ireland, our third one back in Ireland, but the first with our baby son, which is extra special. Coming home feels like you were never away, like nothing has changed, and you just slot right back in. But you are also different, and you find yourself wondering is this me, where I want to be, or am I more settled and happy in my new life away? There are a lot of rose tinted glasses moments, romantising about an Ireland and life you once knew, and may know again in the future.
Christmas takes on a whole new level of excitement when you haven’t seen your friends and family in a while, especially with a new baby. Because it’s such a happy time you can forget what it was that brought you to move away in the first place.
Leaving is always hard. You walk back through those doors guilt-ridden, confused, lonely and anxious, asking yourself, should I be doing this, why am I doing this; even more so with a new generation involved. Life takes over pretty quickly though, and it won’t be long until you are looking forward to your next trip home and the same feelings all over again. All you can do is tell yourself this is a choice, you can come back whenever you want, and focus on the wonderful moments spent with your friends and family.
Lindsey O’Neill, New Zealand: ‘Ireland has definitely improved’
I came back for four weeks this Christmas after five Christmases in New Zealand. Ireland has definitely improved since I have been away and it seems like it has a good growth vibe about it. I am sad to leave my family and friends, but I have built a life overseas and am looking forward to returning the day after tomorrow. I will miss the shops, the restaurants and the general friendliness of the Irish people, and also having Europe on your doorstep is definitely something I didn’t take advantage of while living in Ireland. I am considering now when the right time will be to move back to Ireland, but I worry that things are not always what they seem on the surface.
Padraig Barry, New Haven County, US: ‘Traditions of 40-plus years still stand’
It was delightful to be home. There’s still a purity to an Irish Christmas (though this is waning in my opinion) which is simple, joyous, and ideal. The tone is set upon arriving at Dublin Airport. It is beautifully decorated. Folks wish you a happy Christmas. Lovely! Simple decorations at home. Traditions of 40-plus years still stand. Rural Kilkenny as fun today as it was when I was a boy... thankfully. The real gift of the visit is the anticipation for next year’s return.