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VOICES

Not all emigrants are yearning for the green grass of home

There are things all emigrants miss about Ireland, but some of us are much happier abroad. I know I am.

FIRST OFF I’D like to clarify one thing: before today, I was a reader of articles, not a writer. I have never delved into the world of journalism in any shape or form, so some themes which the studied Cross pen owner would use may be absent.

I’ve been in London for the past ten years, work as a professional, have travelled extensively, hail from West Cork and I love my Irish mammy. In a nutshell, I am an emigrant, looking forward to Christmas at home and occasional visits from my family.

As an Irishman abroad, I feel the persona of the typical emigrant in the Irish media has been somewhat saturated by tales of GAA players; flying ‘Home for Hurling’ or being part of a start-up Gaelic football team in faraway lands such as Kathmandu. Scenes of tear-filled airport embraces and surprise homecomings have become all too familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the GAA and all it entails. I love the history behind it, the Rebels, how it brings people together when living abroad. I subscribe to GAAGO and I eagerly await another summer of championship hurling and football. I even commuted from London to West Cork for two years in search of that elusive junior football championship title. But maybe there’s room for a wider picture of what it means to be an emigrant.

A new type of Irish emigrant 

Ireland has always been a country of emigration. In the last decade this has been amplified by the global recession but it is not something new and would have continued steadily, albeit at a slower rate. My father has told me tales of visiting friends in Kilburn in the ’70s, tales of piling into the back of vans to construction sites in between nights of heavy drinking and fighting. These are well-worn tales. But there is a new wave of Irish emigrants out there, those that make up a large percentage of a diaspora that has recently been such a dominant theme in Irish media.

People may not be aware of the impact these emigrants are making on all sections of society in foreign lands. Nowadays, the twenty-something Irishwoman or man leaves the departure gates a much worldlier, open-minded, educated and opportunistic individual. Do we have the much maligned pre-recession government to thank for this? Maybe, but then again many of us would have preferred not to use those departure gates in the first instance so we won’t be sending a thank you card.

Irish emigrants are now influencing society and communities wherever we go. There are thousands of us working in business, government, education and health, to name just a few industries. Construction is no longer the only industry where Irish people excel. If you go to a restaurant in Canary Wharf, or a West End show, or a teacher training session anywhere in the UK you will inevitably find Irish people. Only now, we are not just attending these events, we’ll be the ones taking clients out for that lunch, or being the lead role at the theatre or actually giving the teacher training rather than being on the receiving end.

Not all of us will be as successful as Denis O’Brien or Willie Walsh but we are making significant strides wherever we are and availing of opportunities which were closed off to us at home.

Not all emigrants are yearning for home

The knock-on effect is, despite what some may believe, all Irish emigrants are not yearning for the green green, grass of home. The move away has given us the opportunity to spread our wings and open our eyes to so much more. Some of us are much happier abroad. I know I am.

There are a number of traits among emigrants which enhance our desire to stay away. Firstly there is stubbornness. Emigrants feel that because Ireland could not provide for us when we needed it most then why come home and give back? Having blossomed somewhere else, does the country deserve us having put in the hard yards ourselves?

Secondly, there is adjustment, not a fear of adjustment but the process. It’s not easy to up and move your whole life. It’s not as easy as packing a few bags and booking a flight.

Finally, the appearance of failure. Moving home can be seen as giving in. ‘He couldn’t hack it away’ or ‘she was always homesick’. Irish people are proud and becoming an emigrant makes you even prouder.

This is only one emigrant’s opinion. I remain positive about Ireland and I am a patriot first and foremost. I hope people will see that the type of emigrant out there is varied, and Ireland is not the perfect fit for every Irish person.

John Christopher Keohane studied Finance in UCC as an undergraduate and completed a master’s degree in Environmental Economics from NUIG. He is currently working in the banking industry in London as a Project Manager. 

Column: An anatomy of one family’s emigration

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John Christopher Keohane
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