Where’s home for emigrants?

Irish people who have moved abroad explain their complicated relationship with homes old and new

Eoghan McHugh

Eoghan McHugh


EOGHAN McHUGH (above), who is 39 and originally from Dublin, works for a software company in Seattle
“Home is where I pay property tax and water charges. Home is where my city provides and maintains beautiful parks, playgrounds, tennis courts and ball fields. Home is where local teenagers actually use the parks, swim in the lakes, shoot hoops. Home is not where the few playgrounds that exist are vandalised and littered with the detritus of cider parties.

“I miss my family, but we always talk. The grannies can still dial a local number; it’s just ringing thousands of miles away. I miss my oldest friends, but we have lots of new ones. I miss Club Milks and batter burgers, but I will survive.

“Home is where you are from, and it’s also where you are. I love my home.”

Anne Reid LyonANNE REID, who is 26, has lived in five countries in six years. She is now based in the French city of Lyons, where she is a translator and interpreter
Home is somewhere that’s never too far from the sea. Home isn’t particularly cold, but you always have your scarf with you, just in case. Home is where you’ll always bump into someone you know.

“Home is where you meet someone for a coffee at three in the afternoon, and get home at three in the morning. Home is where you don’t need to explain your jokes and you can slag someone without them taking offence. Home is where you laugh and laugh and laugh.

“Home is where you feel guilty: guilty for being a bad daughter, guilty for not spending more time with elderly relatives, guilty for being an absent friend.

“Home is where you become aware of everything you’ve missed – the gigs, the nights out, the holidays with friends – and realise that they’re all getting on without you.

“Home is where you fall apart and save face in equal measure. You let on you live an enviable life abroad, but, in reality, coming home is when you can stop being strong all the time.

“Home is the place from which you tried to escape as a teenager, and want to escape to as an adult. Home is not a house or a building but an atmosphere created by the people you love and who love you back. Home for me is Dublin, with all its rain, ‘wrappin’ pay-par’ and strolls on the strand. And my mammy.”

Brigid ReillyBRIGID REILLY, who is 28, moved to Perth in Australia with her boyfriend two years ago. She is a sales engineer
“As I remove my Christmas pudding gingerly from the cooker, made according to my mother’s recipe that she typed carefully in an email, the smell is glorious, and I can’t help but feel proud. I have created a little part of home for Christmas, and that makes me question: where in the world is home?

“Right now home is Perth, but my previous home for nine years was Dublin. And then home-home is Meath, where every field has a name and every defect in the house has a story. It is the sound of birds in the long summer evenings and kicking the ball around until it gets dark. It is the feeling I get on the bus from Dublin as it zooms along the windy, hilly stretch between Slane and Collon and you know you are nearly there.”

Ciara OsbourneCIARA OSBOURNE, who is 27, returned to live in Dublin this year after five years in Britain
“A couple of years ago I considered England my home. But this time last year I realised how incredibly homesick I had become and decided it was time to return to Ireland. Four months and several job applications later I packed the car and set off for Holyhead. I’m back in my family home in Dublin, happier than I’ve ever been.

“With fresh eyes, I appreciate the simple pleasures of Irish life, such as green space, chicken-fillet rolls and time with those closest to me. Home is definitely Dublin, and I can’t see myself wanting to leave again.”

Patrick McKennaPATRICK MCKENNA emigrated from Belfast to Canada in 1975, first to Ontario and then, in 1978, to Montreal, where has lived and worked since
“For my first 34 years in Quebec, Belfast was home, the one and only. Canada, far from being home, struggled just to feel real. Then, in early 2009, all that changed. Montreal, or rather my little corner of it, became home. My homesickness disappeared. I lost my job, but the upside of being ‘decareered’ was being able to give the place where I lived the quality time it deserved. Within two months I fell in love with winter, and once that happened I felt truly at home. I am no longer lost.”

CORMAC GOGGIN, who is 34 andfrom Cork, is an engineer in Qatar
“I think the word ‘homebird’ was invented for me, but in 2005 I decided to further my education, which meant spending two years in Scotland. After qualifying, an opportunity to work in the Middle East came up, and I decided to go for a year. Six years later I am still abroad. My friends all say how great it must be to be away from all the depression, but home is home.”

Alan O'BrienALAN O’BRIEN is a 33-year-old civil servant. He returned to Ireland from South America at Christmas 2008
“When I lived in South America I thought of home regularly but missed it only intermittently. I was having too much fun exploring my new environment.

“Home will always be where I grew up. My most comforting thought, which has made me smile and reduced me to tears, is of playing the last few holes of golf on a summer evening as the sun goes down and shadows lengthen over the dunes.

“But not every evening is like that. And while home is very special to me, that doesn’t mean I should always need to be there. It is a big world, and I’ll only get one chance to explore it.”

David BurnsDAVID BURNS, who is 22, left Ireland last year to teach English in Paris
“Home is a sitting room in a Skype window blocked by familiar faces. But every so often someone steps through the screen: my brother Robin moved to Strasbourg this week. Now I have family in France. The place feels friendlier.

“Some people say we shouldn’t live in a virtual bubble, and encourage learning the new language and making new friends. I would encourage all those things as well, but my home will never be here.

“I am Irish not because I have an Irish passport. I am Irish because I lived, learned, worked and have family in Ireland. The Celtic Tiger and the crash are a part of my personal history. I was born in London but I am not English, not in the eyes of the law or in the eyes of England. I pay tax and reside in France, but I am not French.

“Home is not where you live or where you work. Home is what you remember, what you hate and what you love. Home isn’t somewhere you leave but something you carry wherever you go.”

LYNDA CALLAGHAN is 56 and lives in Leicester, where she works for Leicester City Learning Services
“ ‘Home’ was always some mythical place over the water. Born in Leicester to Dubliners in the 1950s, I longed to ‘go home’ and belong. Except when I got there I was the English cousin and didn’t quite fit in.

“I’ve lived in France too and experienced there a sense of home from having a place to call your own, friends who love you and a language that expresses how you feel.

“Home is where friends and family get you, where you are understood and loved. When I did get together with aunties and uncles, grandparents and cousins, there was always a sense of common experience.”

Niall in canadaNIALL McARDLE, who is 42 andoriginally from Booterstown, in Co Dublin, is a freelance writer and bookseller based in Ottawa Valley, Canada
“If everyone you love is 3,000 miles away, how should you feel about the place you live in? What is home? I’m not sure I know any more. It’s in Canada, with clean air, restaurants that serve coffee in a bottomless cup, and nice people who think my name is Nigel. But it’s also in Ireland, with proper milk, decent tea and the peculiar stink of Booterstown.

“Home for me is not just there; it’s then: a fixed moment in time. It’s Ireland in the early 1990s. When we still had punts, and 20 of them could buy you a decent night out. I can’t think of home without an idea in my head that it no longer exists. I hate thinking of it because I know it’s gone forever.

“I hated not being there to experience the tributes to Seamus Heaney. Imagine: a country coming to a standstill to mourn a poet: I never felt prouder to be Irish. I almost cried when I saw photos of the Christmas lights on Grafton Street, and I know I’ll cry when The Irish Times sends a photographer to Dublin Airport on Christmas Eve to catch the homecoming, because I won’t be part of it.”

marie-Therese KeeganMARIE-THERESE KEEGAN, who is 45, has since 1988 lived in London, where she runs creative-writing workshops for kids
“My going home and leaving home occur simultaneously. I’m returning to the home I have with my English husband and children in London. But on leaving Ireland I am leaving home too. On the drive to the airport I feel a dull ache. My car journey from the west takes in swathes of Irish countryside. I feel a physical connection to the soil; maybe this is because I come from farming folk.

“I live near Hampton Court and have history and acres of parkland on my doorstep, but I don’t experience them the same way I do the mountains and trees at home. My visits home earth me, and when my time comes I can’t imagine my final resting place will be anywhere other than Ireland.”

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