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When I left Ireland, I thought I wouldn’t be gone long. But emigration sneaks up on you.

After spending the best part of a decade in Australia, I decided to give Ireland another go. I soon realised I hardly knew anyone. My social cohort had simply disappeared.

Philip Lynch

I WONDER IF many of us Irish who are emigrating really know how long we will be gone. Will it be for a few years, or, as often is the case, for the rest of our days? In some respects, leaving Ireland isn’t that difficult. It’s the returning that tends to be a tad more fraught.

When I left, half a lifetime ago I thought I wouldn’t be gone for long. Back then it was almost unfathomable to imagine a lifetime away from my family and my familiar surrounds. But emigration subtly sneaks up on you until one day there’s the realisation that this is it. And, by then, it’s not practical or possible to return.

I left with a bagful of emotions and the proverbial chip on my shoulder. No doubt, all spawned by my experience of growing up poor in rural Ireland. Even from a young age I never felt I’d have a future in Ireland. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in such circumstances. I was one of those second-tier twentysomethings who chose to go in the 1980s. We hadn’t done well enough at secondary school to go university but we also unwilling to settle for blue-collar work or the dole.

Migrant life is loaded and complex

Once I was abroad, I wasn’t especially conscious of my Irishness. But of course spending one’s formative years in Ireland leaves one with an Irishness that’s impossible to truly shed. After a while I stopped saying “grand” and “that’s a terror.” “Eejit,” I also banished quick smart from my vocabulary, though, just now, I’ve had to add it to my spellcheck. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I enquired of someone about “the craic.”

And of course there are those problematic pronunciations or mispronunciations I’ve had and have to contend with; boat instead of both or tree instead of three are just a few that spring to mind. The list is long.

But for all that, this migrant life is a little more loaded and complex than our enduring brogues.

Somewhere along the way, I got used to it here

During those first few years I’d make pacts with myself. I wouldn’t return to live until I’d finished my nursing. Then, I’d stay and get through university. And, of course, somewhere along the way, I got used to it here. I kind of got used to the heat, to the laconic Aussie humour, grew to like Aussie Rules and lots of little things. Australia snuck up on me.

I’m not saying Australia is any better or worse than Ireland. It’s simply different. To use that modern cliché, it is what it is; a huge sprawling continent of contradictions, challenges and opportunities. It’s a place of tremendous beauty and wealth, and of course, social inequality; despite the enduring stereotype of everyone supposedly being entitled to a fair go.

I decided to give Ireland another go… but soon realised things had changed

In 1990, after spending the best part of a decade in Australia, I decided to give Ireland another go. I soon realised I hardly knew anyone. My social cohort had simply disappeared. There wasn’t much on offer in terms of work so I helped out at home on the farm. It was my own Irish kibbutz of sorts. I wasn’t one for downing pints at the local. I liked the bog and the feel of moist sods of freshly hewn turf. All those dragonflies glinting in the sunshine as they flitted around over the sedge were always some sight. But I could take or leave thinning turnips and carrots. And shaking out silage left me sore and blistered.

That summer my brother and I criss-crossed the county shearing sheep. It was back-breaking work but the cash came in handy. I was now the brother home from Australia. The Aussie. I had no idea I’d already morphed into another nationality. I suspect I was regarded with a combination of curiosity and probably indifference. We got around in my brother’s Datsun Bluebird with ACDC’s Who Made Who blaring on the stereo. I think it was the only cassette tape he had in the car. Australia suddenly seemed a long way away on some of those days.

I was probably missing Australia more than I cared to let on

As we drove around that summer I was taken aback by the size of some of the houses, surreal looking things, that were springing up all over the midlands. Some people must’ve been doing well for themselves. That year seemed to fly past and to drag its heels at the same time. But I was probably missing Australia more than I cared to let on. I knew there was no room for me on the farm but it wasn’t what I wanted anyway. I wasn’t able to get through the red tape that was stalling my nursing registration getting recognised.

After a year, I was ready to go again. So much of me had changed but I was incapable of expressing such thoughts to anyone. But for all that, part of me still had to steel myself to go again. And this time, although no-one let on, everyone knew I was going for good.

Philip Lynch emigrated to Australia in 1983, trained as a nurse in Melbourne, and now lives in rural Tasmania. When he’s not nursing he works part-time as a barista in a cafe his wife and he own in the local town.

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Philip Lynch

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