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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Irish emigrant 'I'm more concerned now about the Great Barrier Reef than the Irish summer'
Emigrants don’t really have much choice – unless we want to spend our life looking back wistfully and wondering about what might have been if we’d stayed, writes Philip Lynch.

WHATEVER OUR REASONS for leaving – too many in the nest, feck-all chance of a semi-decent job or finding the best little country for whatever, a smidge stultifying – most of us still like to think we won’t be forgotten.

We may have gone but it’s not as if we’ve morphed into another nationality.

Life-long Irish status

No matter where we’ve ended up, our connection with Ireland, however tenuous, isn’t something most of us would ever want to lose. Our life-long Irish status remains even if we barred from having our say in Irish elections or referendums. Nor should we all be stereotyped as fervent GAA fans from afar or devout disciples of all things Irish.

It almost goes without saying that many of us are not in a perpetual state of grieving for mammy’s cooking (I prefer sourdough over soda bread these days) or Barry’s Tea. The Irish abroad, I would argue, are a varied and complicated lot.

When we emigrate, we have our reasons for leaving and we know what we’re leaving. But it would be reassuring to know that if and when we decide to return, barriers wouldn’t be thrown up in our path. Surely returning migrants can only add something to Ireland’s culture and economy. Who knows perhaps we could even shake things up a bit back in the old country.

Catching up with news from home

It’s hardly surprising that many of us log on at all hours of the day to catch up with the news from home. But social media simultaneously manages to be a convenient and imperfect means of communicating. Often it seems as if we’ve have been reduced to passive observers; but we still like to know what’s happening.

In my early years away, in those pre-mortgage days, it was easy enough to head home, at least on a semi-regular basis. Jumping on a plane from Australia was something I’d do almost without blinking. Back then I barely felt removed from the place where I’d spent my formative years.

But one’s adoptive country gradually exerts its own influence, as it inevitably will. I’ve grown to care and even fret about things closer at hand. I’d be more concerned now about the ailing The Great Barrier Reef than say if summer actually arrives in any given year in Ireland.

We don’t really have much choice – unless we want to spend our life looking back wistfully and wondering about what might have been if we’d stayed.

Harsh barriers

I accept that we migrants probably have forfeited our say in Irish politics. But the barriers facing would-be returning migrants seem unnecessarily harsh and even discriminatory.

Anyhow, it’s not as if we have renounced our emotional citizenship. And I can’t help wondering if these barriers are some sort of payback for us having flown the coop. It’s difficult not to think that despite the occasional, and almost spurious hashtag campaign encouraging us to return, we are not really welcome back at all; and that there’s a notion at home that we migrants are too inclined to get ahead of ourselves.

Some of us may feel relieved to be on our way and to be escaping the curiosity that prevails, especially in rural areas. Others leave feeling rejected by their country of birth. And subsequent visits simply serve to amplify these feelings. In my experience the real turning point in the migrant’s journey is the death of one’s parents. That’s when the emotional drift sets in in earnest.

The reality is that getting a career off the ground abroad takes time and hard work. Many of us are loath to give all this away and to take our chances again back home. The thing to keep in mind is to be patient. After a few years away, our journey invariably gets a little easier.

At the end of the day all we really want is for the folk back home to cut us some slack. Roll out the welcome mat lads. Of course, we’ve flown the coop but, deep down, most of us like to think we haven’t quite gone for good.

Surely, in these worrying post-Brexit times, Ireland would benefit for unconditionally welcoming us all on board. This isn’t too much to ask, is it?

Philip Lynch now lives in Australia.

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