Coming home – the reality of a returning emigrant



Coming home – the reality of a returning emigrant

Ciara Galvin

WHEN family and friends emigrate, for however long, loved ones rarely hear about the hard times of those gone to pastures new.
A check-in on Facebook at Dublin Airport, maybe followed by another at a stopover, lets people know they are on their way, embarking on a new adventure, whether the adventure was chosen or forced.
Families back home hear the good stories of sons and daughters meeting with relations, expats from home towns helping people out with jobs to ‘get them started’, and manic match days at Sydney’s infamous Tea Gardens or Dubai’s Irish Village watching the GAA.
However, the emigrants must also strike missed birthdays, births, anniversaries and special occasions back home that emigrants off their calendars, at best hearing about them through a computer screen.  
When you hear the success stories of people making the much-talked-about $4,000 a week working for a month in a mine, it all makes sense. People left to work, to make money, to save so that when they return to Ireland they could live comfortably, buy a house, and support a family, right?
In some cases, yes. For many, however, the intoxicating lure of money is too great, the lifestyle is too good and the climate, well, it’s a little kinder than home. If people are fortunate enough to secure residency or sponsorship abroad, then who knows the likelihood of them returning.
Those on limited working visas are faced with returning home, sometimes to less than they left.

Jerry’s story
In January 2012, Jerry Keane from Ballinrobe talked to The Mayo News about preparing to move to Australia to find work as a Quantity Surveyor. Jerry qualified from Sligo IT in 2009 but was unable to get a job as a QS. After working for a number of years in a local bakery, he decided to make the big move, along with a large number of friends who were faced with the same situation. After his visa ran out last year, he returned home in November, but he has since left the country again for work. This time, he’s gone to England.
Speaking to The Mayo News before his latest move, he explained that he couldn’t live on the wages he was earning in Ireland. “I’m moving to Bristol for a QS job. I was working in Dublin since I came home from Australia but the money up there is very hard to live on. I couldn’t turn down the work, but people who are qualified are on very low pay, and it’s hard to survive,” he said.
Does he wish he could have stayed in Australia? “Maybe I would have stayed another year or so but I had done my time and I was coming home with the view to getting a job in Ireland.”
Though Jerry admits it was ‘tough over there at times’, the fact that most of his friends were in Australia at the time made it easier. Returning home on the other hand, was a different story.
“It was hard to adapt when I came home. It was very quiet and there wasn’t a lot happening, and a lot of my friends are still over there [Australia]. When you go from a city of 6 million, to a town of 2,000 it’s very hard to adjust.”
Asked how he feels about having to leave his home again in search of work, Jerry is honest. “I’m a small bit pissed off. In a perfect world I’d like to get a job in the west. I’m annoyed about what has to be done to get a job,” he concluded.

Christopher’s story
Christopher Mellott (25), also from Ballinrobe, left for Australia in February 2012. A lot of his friends left for Australia that same month in what was dubbed an ‘emigration epidemic’ for the town.
Christopher was the second in his family to make the trip down under, following on from his sister, Debbie, who stayed in Australia seven years but has since returned home. His younger brother, Ciaran, also made the move and is still living out there.
Christopher has a law degree from NUI Galway, worked in Melbourne in a workshop as a spray painter, worked on a farm to gain his second-year visa and returned to Ballinrobe earlier this month. To his eyes, the town had changed.
“When we got back into town I said to Mam that we could do a lap of town and there’d be nobody on the streets. I was used to opening my door in Melbourne and having millions of people at my doorstep; now I look out the window and nobody is around,” said Mellott.
However, there were downsides to Australia too – the cost of living, for example, was high.
According to the OECD, Australia’s food prices increased by 41.3 percent from 2000 to 2012. In 2011 the Economist Intelligence Unit said Sydney was 45 percent more expensive to live in than New York, and 28 percent more expensive than London.
Now home, Christopher is busying himself studying for further law exams and looking for work, but he already has plans to leave again.
“I’m happy to be home but there’s more to life than just Ballinrobe … I have a visa for Canada in the pipeline, but whether I take it up or not is a different thing,” said Mellott.

Chris’s story
Chris McHugh (25) from Cong has also returned home after spending a year-and-a-half in Australia. For him, one of the toughest parts of his time away was not being around when his niece was born.
“I found it very hard my first Christmas because my niece was born and she was the first grandchild. I missed the Christening and stuff like that. Hardest thing was when I did come home, she was getting to a stage where she knew people and she hadn’t a clue who I was.”
Chris returned home after his contract with a gas company finished up, and now he is working as a courier.
Speaking about his decision to go, Chris admits that he was one of the lucky ones – he went to Australia to experience new things, not because he was forced to.
“It was tough on family, I didn’t have to leave, I wanted to experience the lifestyle. I found it hard to settle, but you make friends and get used to it.”
Chris worked on a gas line for the majority of his stay and like a lot of Irish out there, he worked gruelling hours, up at four in the morning and back to camp after six in the evening. He worked 28 days straight, get a week off and then start another 28-day stretch.
Would Chris return to Australia again? Maybe, he says, for a holiday, but as long as he has a ‘steady job’ at home he sees no point in leaving Ireland just yet.
Whatever their reason for leaving, most people return to Ireland for family and friends. For some, the option to return may not be there until the country’s economy has recovered and confidence in Ireland is restored.
Is grass greener on the other side? It comes down to who you’re asking.


  • The total emigration from Ireland in the year ending April 2013 was estimated to be 89,000 – an increase of 2.2 per cent on the previous year
  • More than 40,000 of those leaving the country were under the age of 24
  • 24.6 percent (21,900) of emigrants went to the UK, while 17.3 percent (15,400) went to Australia
  • The OECD has ranked Australia top of its Best Life Index for the fourth year in a row