We should have had ten children; some of them might have remained in Ireland

We encouraged them to follow their dream, but their dreams led them away from home

Mary G Johnson at her home in Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

Mary G Johnson at her home in Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

 

We had three children. Maybe we should have had ten; some of them may have remained in Ireland.

We encouraged them to follow their dream, but their dreams led them away from home and they willingly left Ireland. Our music graduate lives in England, the aeronautical engineer lives in Berlin, and the arts graduate in English and Philosophy works in LA.

All are gainfully employed and married. We have four grandchildren; one in Berlin and three in Manchester.

When I get lonely I think of my grand aunts and uncles who emigrated to the US at the turn of the 20th century. One great aunt was only 14 when her uncle, as arranged, took her back with him to America following his holiday at home. She did not see her mother or her Irish home again until she was a grandmother herself.

Modern communication is wonderful; the face on the computer screen, the voice on the phone. You literally carry your emigrant children in your pocket.

But nothing compensates for their actual presence. The family humour, banter and sadder emotions need the presence, the voice, the facial expression, the body language, the touch.

The grandchildren are small enough to be read to, taught board and card games. Then overnight a photograph flashes on a screen; who is that pre-teen who is so tall?

Mary G Johnson at her home in Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus
Mary G Johnson at her home in Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

We all continue on as cheerfully as we can, but sharing news of our emigrant children living abroad, the face falls that little bit, the voice takes on a distant tone. But most of the time we keep our tears under control.

An island people will always emigrate. A small country with few natural resources may never be able to employ all it’s people. Our comfort is that now our Irish emigrant children are no longer fated to work in menial jobs. They are in the main well educated, confident and proud of their country.

I write to my grandchildren. In the letters I often write about their parents’ childhood; it is my great pleasure to send them books and toys that their mum or dad once enjoyed. I rarely get a reply, but I am told that the letters are kept to be re-read again and again.

We will be there at the Christmas masses and services. If you see us weeping as the carols are sung in childish treble or mature voice, don’t disturb us, for in our tears is not just our loneliness but the joy of knowing that our emigrant children can negotiate the world in a manner unknown to our ancestors who sailed on the coffin ships, the Allen liners, or flew out of Rineanna (now Shannon) on the DC10s.

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