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Returning home to Mayo for Christmas

Swopping Sydney Harbour for Clew Bay

It will be an extra special Christmas for the Ryan family in Kilmeena when James and Michelle bring baby Niamh home for the first time

A christmas to remember
Edwin McGreal

SINCE leaving for Australia in 2008, Kilmeena man James Ryan has always loved coming home to meet family and friends but it is doubtful he’s been as excited about a trip home as he is this Christmas.
James and his wife Michelle are arriving in Ireland this Thursday and with them, paying her first trip to Ireland, will be their daughter Niamh, who will be six months old on the very day she steps foot in Ireland for the first time.
James’ brother Vinny [Niamh’s Godfather] and sister Sineád flew to Australia for Niamh’s Christening but for the rest of the family this week will be the first time they will see Niamh. James admits he can’t wait.
“It is going to be probably a bit surreal. I’m really looking forward to it. I know my family are so excited and my grandmother Nora Chambers (from Newport) will be delighted, she even got onto Skype to have a look at Niamh.
“My mother and sisters have a whole new wardrobe of clothes for her and my Dad and brother Vinny have even done up a bedroom in the house for her, so I think that says it all. I think the visit home is going to be, as my sister Sineád would say, epic!”
While a lot of Irish people have been forced to Australia so that they could work, James Ryan was forced in a different way. He’s not an economic migrant but a man who followed his heart. He met Sydney native Michelle Boukaram in Dublin while she was on a weekend there when she was working as a teacher in London. A relationship blossomed across the Irish Sea and when it came time for Michelle to return home to Sydney, James took the plunge to follow her out.
That was January 2008, they were married in St Brendan’s Church in Myna in Kilmeena in September 2009 and Michelle gave birth to baby Niamh last June. With James unlikely to get work in Ireland at the moment - he’s a quantity surveyor - it would appear that they will be in Sydney for the foreseeable future but he admits that they have made no long-term plans on where they will live.
“Am I in Sydney for good? I can never say that, ever since the day I arrived here I’ve been asked that question and can’t get myself to say ‘yes’. I’m just taking it week by week. Myself and Michelle agreed before we got married that wherever was best to be with regards to work, we’d be, and at the minute that’s Australia,” he admits.
Naturally there’s lots to love about Australia but plenty to miss about Ireland too.
“I love the sun and the effect the weather has on the lifestyle over here. You really get to enjoy your weekends with trips to the beach, barbecues, footy games, socialising etc, but the socialising has been substantially reduced in fairness since Niamh came along, but we still get out for walks on the beach and parks. You really feel like you’ve had a holiday by the time you’re back at work on a Monday.
“But you’d always miss home too. I’d mostly miss my family and friends, especially when there’s an occasion at home where they’re all gathered, like weddings and birthdays, that kind of thing. I really do miss football with Kilmeena, the training, the games and the nights on the town afterwards!”
And then there’s the trading of the warmth of Sydney’s sun - it is summertime in December in Australia - for the contrast of the wet and cold Irish Christmas. But it’s hard to beat the mother’s cooking.
“I just can’t get my head around it over here when I see Christmas trees going up and it’s 35 degrees! I suppose it’s the fact that living in Europe we’re used to cold winters but I think that’s how it should be, nights with the family by the open fire.
“A barbecue in the heat or turkey and ham in Kilmeena for the Christmas dinner? I think it’s turkey and ham for me!”