‘I’m not homesick any more’: Irish emigrants on their changing lives

From London to the United Arab Emirates and Australia, four Irish people talk about their experiences making a new life overseas

Geraldine Potts, Perth, Australia
‘I see both sets of grandparents missing Erin so much, and that is a negative’

Geraldine Potts has lived in Australia since 2011. After emigrating from Ireland to Wales, in 2003, she took the opportunity to move to Sydney with the company she was working for. In 2014 she moved to Perth, where she now lives with her husband and their 15-month-old baby, Erin.

She originally moved to Australia on a four-year employer-sponsored visa; last year she got her permanent residency. When she moved from Sydney to Perth she found a very strong and active Irish community.

“I lived in Bondi in Sydney, and really you could have a County Bondi. Everywhere you go you hear Irish accents, you see the lads in the Irish jerseys, but it still felt like we were all living our own lives. Whereas in Perth it is a much more Irish community.


“We have a playgroup set up in Perth with Irish mums. That’s where I met a huge majority of my friends. It is a very active and inclusive community in Perth. You could be immersed in it every day and never have to talk to another Australian if you didn’t want to.”

The 35-year-old does not plan to move back to Ireland, but she says she would never say never.

For her the biggest drawback of living abroad is the distance from home and the cost of flying to Ireland. “When I was in Sydney I was home about every nine months,” she says. “I wasn’t even there the 12 months when I flew home, and I went home for a month at a time.”

Now that they are a family of three they won’t be able to visit home as often, she says.

“It is brought home to you when the next generation comes along. I see both sets of grandparents missing Erin so much, and that is a negative.”

Ashling Kelly, London
‘The NHS has so many more opportunities than the HSE, and they really encourage you to progress’

Ashling Kelly, who is 29, qualified as a nurse in 2011. As the HSE had frozen its recruitment she found it hard to find work at a hospital. She worked in a nursing home but was concerned about being unable to maintain her nursing skills.

In January 2012 she began working at an NHS hospital in Buckinghamshire, in England. A year later she moved to London and began studying to become a midwife, after which she got an NHS job in Hackney, in London.

“In the NHS there are people who are promoted and they are still in their 30s or 40s. Promotion, especially for nurses in the HSE, doesn’t really happen. The NHS has so many more opportunities in research and development than the HSE, and they really encourage you to progress.” The NHS offers lots of upskilling courses, she says, and will fund you to take them.

But she misses the community spirit of home, where “everyone knows everyone. There is always that sense of community. Whereas, especially in London, you could go your whole life without knowing your neighbours.

“I try to get home every three months. It can be quite difficult. I get quite upset leaving my mum when I am coming back. It is quite hard to say goodbye. You know it’s going to be months before you see them again.”

But Kelly says she couldn’t imagine not having moved to Britain. She is marrying a Londoner next year and says her future is in the UK.

Laura Hayes, United Arab Emirates
‘A night out in Abu Dhabi is like going to your local pub in Ireland’

A tax-free salary, free accommodation and no bills were some of the things that attracted Laura Hayes to the idea of teaching English in Abu Dhabi, the biggest of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates . She emigrated there three years ago, at the age of 21, after finishing a master’s degree in media.

Most of the teachers in the school where Hayes taught were Irish, and she was among a close-knit community of expats in Abu Dhabi.

After two years she moved to Dubai, again to teach English. She found that it had a more diverse emigrant community.

“In Abu Dhabi if you go out it is like going to your local pub. If you go out in Dubai there are just so many different expats, so I would prefer my social life there.

“But I have a lot of friends in Abu Dhabi, because I spent a considerable amount of time there.

“In Dubai my group of friends are Scottish, American, English and South African. It is very diverse.”

Dubai and Abu Dhabi both offer endless opportunities to lead a busy social life, as well as plenty of opportunities to travel, Hayes says.

“There is always something for us to do on the weekend over there. Either going to the beach, going to waterparks, free concerts or free yoga on the beach.

“The teachers’ holidays were another major plus for us, as it was easy to travel to many countries in Asia. Our travels included Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.”

Hayes plans to move to Australia at the end of August on a one-year working visa. If she can find an employer to sponsor here she’ll stay there, she says.

Mark Maxwell, Sydney, Australia
‘I’m not really homesick any more. That’s all part of growing’

As soon as he finished his commerce degree at University College Dublin, in 2014, Mark Maxwell got a job at an investment bank in Sydney. He emigrated a week after completing his studies.

The 24-year-old had already lived in the city during a gap year between secondary school and university, and he was eager to return.

His main motivation for emigrating was to travel, and, like many other people his age have told the Generation Emigration survey, he says he would have left Ireland regardless of whether he had got his job at the bank.

Maxwell enjoys Australia’s culture and outdoor lifestyle. Australia and New Zealand come out top for lifestyle in the ‘Irish Times’ survey.

“A lot of people would do the touristy things, like going to the Great Barrier Reef, on holidays. I have done all that, and I would prefer now to go out into the country and get the real deal,” he says.

“Even a couple of weeks ago we went camping down the coast. You get up and go for a nice hike, go for a surf and have a barbecue in the evening.”

Maxwell has found work at Google in Sydney. He intends to travel more and is debating his next move. He doesn’t think he’ll live in Ireland again, but he’s been back since he left and plans to visit for a month at the end of the year.

“I am not really homesick any more, but I did experience it a few times. That’s all part of growing as well: you find out more about yourself going through that process.”

“The way I describe it is that you can like Sydney and you can like Dublin, but they just happen to be two very different personalities. Moving abroad is great for personal development.”