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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# permanent move
"It's like a grieving process": Parents prepare to leave Ireland and follow their children to Australia
Janet and Eugene Bennis miss their children and grandchildren so much, they’ve decided to move to the other side of the world.
It’s just going to be really good, the timing is perfect for us – if we waited another 10 years we wouldn’t be able to do it.

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FOR THE TWELFTH year in a row, Janet and Eugene Bennis are getting ready to spend Christmas without all of their children.

But this time, they know that in two months, the family will be reunited forever in Brisbane. That’s because the Limerick-based parents have taken the huge step of deciding to move to Australia permanently, and they anticipate setting off for Oz in February 2015, once their visas are in order.

In March, we brought you the Bennis family’s story. Back then, they had recently made the tough decision to leave their Irish and Liverpudlian families and make the trek to Australia, after finding the distance from their four children and grandchildren too hard to bear.

Their daughter Jennifer left for Oz when she was 19. She turned 30 in July. Eoin (29) is gone about seven years, while Claire and Cian emigrated in the past two years. Three of the siblings are married to Australians.

Since then, there have been many changes in the Bennis household, and that permanent move is edging closer.

“We’ve sold our house, and we’ve exchanged contracts. We’ve applied for our permanent visas, and we’ve wrapped up the furniture,” said Janet from Ballincollig in Cork this weekend.

599337_10201067136351390_355513357_n-1-630x472 The couple's children

The bucket list

They were in Ballincollig to visit musician Rory Gallagher’s grave. It’s one of a number of goals on a ‘bucket list’ they put together before their move. They fill the car with petrol, make a packed lunch, fill a Thermos with tea, and travel the country every Sunday.

They’ve already climbed Croagh Patrick – “which nearly killed me,” jokes Janet – journeyed to Achill Island, visited Kilmainham Jail, and will soon be going to the Giants’ Causeway.

The pair have been sharing their experiences on their Facebook page, which has helped Janet express her feelings about the big move. They’ve also filmed some footage for a TV documentary, which has captured their lives over the past few months.

Emigration is an expensive business, and their budget trips and the kind help of others (A Ace Removals has offered to transport their belongings for free, for example) are lessening the financial impact. ”I just cannot believe how nice people have been to me,” said Janet.

But aside from the practical aspects, there are the difficult emotional ones. “I left my job on Friday,” said an emotional Janet. “It was bittersweet, but it was really, really hard.” She received extremely thoughtful gifts from her colleagues, who told her about her positive impact on the team at the University of Limerick’s Café Allegro.

After working with Janet this year, the crew and cast of UL’s panto gave her a framed and signed picture. Little gestures like this show her how much she will be missed. “I was just bawling crying yesterday when they presented it to me,” said Bennis. A bubbly and glass-half-full person, her tears show how deeply emotional a time it is for the family.

We’re very excited about it. It’s very bittersweet for us because we’re going to Liverpool on Christmas Eve for our fourth Christmas in Liverpool, and our last Christmas with my sisters and brother, so that will be really emotional.

Leaving two lives

Janet describes herself as “leaving two lives”. “I’m leaving my life here in Ireland – I’ve been here for 36 years – and I’m also leaving my other life in Liverpool. It’s a double whammy for me because I’m leaving both.”

It’s particularly tough for her to leave her cousins in Ireland, who she says are like her adopted sisters.

“It’s not just about us leaving - it’s the ripple effect of this emigration, of us leaving. We’re leaving all our uncles, who are in their 70s. We all die, we’re all going to die, but because they are in their 70s, I am very conscious of that.”

They’re devastated we’re leaving them. It’s like a grieving process for all of us. None of us are getting any younger… 16,000 miles, it’s a long way if one of us gets ill or Eugene or myself gets ill. You can’t just jump on a plane. People say ‘it’s just a flight away’, but it’s not – it’s a world away, that’s the tough part.

“My Irish sisters have come to the house and seen all the stuff boxed up and really got upset. I say to them: ‘it’s a celebration’. It’s really hard for me to see my cousins and neighbours upset.”

The move became ‘real’ for them when their house went on the market. “The minute we put the house up for sale and the house went up, that was another reality that this is really happening. The way Eugene and myself are looking at it is it is a step closer to the airport, to Australia.”


Reuniting with family

Janet and Eugene say the time is right for them to leave.

“The time to go is perfect for us. We’re leaving one good life to start another one with our kids and grandkids. That’s the most important thing to us at our age.”

It’s the time with the grandchildren that they will really treasure.

Saoirse’s now 4 and a half and she’ll talk to you… you want to take her to the park, take her to the shops, you want to take her to the pantomime. The two two-year-olds, they’re talking to us now too.

Their story might be extraordinary, but Janet assures that the Bennis family are just like everyone else. “We still do the same arguing everybody does – we’re not the Brady bunch!” she laughs. And that normality is what has led their story to touch so many people.

But for all the difficulties their situation brings with it, it also brings the possibility of a new, brighter future, with a family united – and friends and relations back home in Ireland and Liverpool, missing them but wishing them the best.

Read: “It’s just so hard”: Limerick couple to follow their four children to Australia – forever>

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