Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Fry-ups, 99s, the M50, pubs, craic and the rain : What Irish people abroad miss (and don’t) about Ireland

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As it’s that time again when half the world seems either to be Irish or to be pretending that they are, we decided to ask Irish people who have moved abroad what they miss about Ireland – and, as importantly, what they don’t. Thank you to everyone who sent their views, some of which you can read below. Happy St Patrick’s Day.

‘I need the roar of the ocean’

Nora, New Jersey, US: I’ve just returned from West Cork after visiting my family, so the longing is fresh. I have lived in the US since 1988, but I still feel the pull to go back, and not just to family. I still feel like I belong there even after so much time has passed. I love the manageable feel of the pretty villages and towns. I need the roar of the ocean. I crave long walks on beaches like Inchadoney, Long Strand or Garrylucas. I can sit for hours and listen to the call of the birds.

I miss the quietness, the beauty, even the melancholy. Elegant swans, cows along the ditch, distant tractor engines, and rain that lulls me to the best night’s sleep. These are all sensory delights for me. The nearest SuperValu is always clean and has all my favourites, like Brennan’s wholemeal bread. I can’t wait to eat the black pudding and creamy coleslaw and then settle in by the fire for a bit of TG4, amid groans from my siblings. I miss my family.

I don’t miss the coffee or the scrutiny from the few that wonder what I’m up to, shaking their heads at what I could, would or should have been. I think I’ll make a cup of tea now and look at summer flights.

Having a chat with anyone doesn’t really happen here

Keith, Düsseldorf, Germany: I’m born in Clonmel and raised in Cork. In 2007 I moved to Den Haag – The Hague. A few years later I moved to Eindhoven, which is also in the Netherlands, and then, a few years after that, to Düsseldorf, in Germany. I’ve been here for six years now. I love where my girlfriend and I live, but what I do miss about Ireland is my family and the people in general. Irish people are so warm and outgoing. Having a chat with anyone, whether you are standing at a bus stop or buying something at a shop, doesn’t really happen here.

The Irish landscape is beautiful, and the food is fantastic, with great ingredients. And the pubs: there’s nothing like a nice pint by a pub fireplace in the winter. I miss live pub music big time. It basically doesn’t exist here.

The top things I do not miss (even a little bit): Irish public transport (or lack thereof); Irish weather, which seems to include 10 types of rain; the view that cycling is some sort of unusual death sport you do for exercise; people wearing their outdoor shoes inside the house; separate hot and cold taps rather than mixer taps; weak, noisy electric showers.

I really enjoy visiting Ireland, but I couldn’t see myself moving back. It’s just a hop across the water anyway. Fun fact: Düsseldorf has the world’s largest digital clock, which also lights up in green on March 17th. Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit.

There’s no place I would rather be than in West Cork

John, Massachusetts, US: I’ve lived in the Boston area since the end of 1994. Except for a couple of years during Covid, my wife and I and our son have visited Ireland every year. I’ll get the negative out of the way first. The weather.

Other than that, there is nothing I do not like about Ireland, particularly with the great changes in our laws to accommodate so many different beliefs and values and the wonderful influx of so many nationalities that have come to live in Ireland. It seems that we are now much more progressive than the United States in terms of social issues and women’s reproductive rights.

I guess what I miss most is my family and friends. As many of them have visited us over the years, and as we get to talk on the phone regularly, this is really not such an issue.

I also read The Irish Times most days online and so feel pretty connected. I certainly miss not being able to go to our home rugby internationals, or when the Dubs are playing in Croke Park. There is no place I would rather be than in West Cork on a fine day. Our family had a little stone cottage on the coast near Skibbereen for many years. Indeed for the three months before I moved here I used stay there every weekend. Even if it were raining, which it does tend to do a lot, I would be more than happy to sit by the fire and read. In the evenings I would go to Mary Anns in Castletownshend for a pint or two of Guinness. Bliss.

I do for sure miss our wonderfully friendly people. It doesn’t take much to get a conversation going with anyone. Over the years I’ve met many Americans, even ones with no ancestral connection to Ireland, who are full of praise for our people, our scenery and our wonderful food. These are all sentiments I heartily agree with. I doubt if I’ll ever live anyplace other than the US. I will, however, continue visiting Ireland annually and exhort as many Americans as I can to do the same.

After a week back in Ireland I’m, like, Okay, this is sh*te’

Aoife, Queensland, Australia: I don’t really miss anything about Ireland apart from the sense of humour and people’s turn of phrase in describing certain things. The most I can spend is a week there. After that I’m, like, ‘Okay, this is sh*te. I want to get out of here.’ I like how Ireland isn’t as much of a nanny state as Australia, though.

The Irish Government isn’t perfect, but they don’t treat their citizenry like children and interfere too much in their personal lives. I feel like some Australian politicians are some of the dumbest people I’ve laid eyes upon. They’ll stubbornly defend their silly policies even though they’re wrong.

I miss pub culture, but it doesn’t miss me

Deirdre, Toronto, Canada: I left on what I thought was going to be a two-year stint in 2018. Fast-forward several years and I’m still here with no plans of leaving. I miss main streets. They’re a rarity here. We will often have swathes of residential housing for miles and miles, and the only shops are in malls or the outdoor-shopping-plaza kind.

I also miss pub culture, but it doesn’t miss me. Now that I live further away I definitely drink a lot less than I used too, and that’s probably a good thing. Lastly, I miss a nice mild Irish spring. We don’t have that here, where our spring typically is still cold, with snow.

I don’t miss the rental situation in Ireland. When I left it was a disaster, and it seems it’s got even worse. We pay slightly more here for apartments, but there’s plenty of them, and that’s the difference.

I miss being able to say ‘Stop the lights’

Mary, Queensland, Australia: I miss just being among my own people. Not having to watch how I say 33 and three. Being able to say ‘Stop the lights’ and ‘How’s she going’ without having to explain it. I miss brown bread with Mammy’s home-made raspberry jam.

I’m in Australia since ‘07. The longing for home gets stronger

Tara, Queensland, Australia: I miss the sense of community. When your neighbours back home would just pop over for a cuppa and a chat. The connections, family, good friends. Knowing you could call anyone if you needed help. Walking down the town and being able to greet people. As great as Australia is, people tend to keep to themselves. I have been in Australia since 2007, and I find the longing for home gets stronger.

Tayto, a fry-up, 99s, the sea – I miss those

Brian, Prague, Czech Republic: I moved abroad in summer 2010, at 27, after losing a job in tech. I could’ve stayed, but I decided to give something else a go. What do I miss? My parents, the craic, slagging, Tayto crisps, a nice fry-up, 99s, the sea, green hills. Yes, even the unpredictable weather.

What I don’t miss? The insane cost of living (which has only got worse) and what Ireland has become politically, respectively an EU vassal state and the permeation of wokeness and a “left-wing-politics-only” mantra in “polite society”.

I’ll be sending my daughter to school in our Flemish village fully clad in green

Sylvia, Belgium: I didn’t actually start to enjoy St Patrick’s Day until I moved away from Ireland. My first year in Belgium I got involved with the local GAA club, and part of this involvement was the organisation of an annual St Patrick’s Festival in a park in the centre of Brussels. It was always a wonderful day out for the Irish and international community of Brussels, with slightly better weather than in Ireland.

This year I’ll be sending my half-Irish three-year-old daughter to school in our Flemish village fully clad in green. Her red hair will really show it all off. I am sorry not to be in Ireland this year, though, because my lovely Peruvian sister-in-law is representing her country in the St Patrick’s Festival and parade through Dublin. Our whole family is so excited: she is an amazing example of new Ireland, and we are very proud of her.

There is nothing like the Irish craic

Fiona Jane, Italy: Apart from family and old friends I miss the banter. There is nothing like the Irish craic. Though I don’t miss the incessant rain.

I don’t miss the M50 middle-lane huggers

Colm, Flemish Brabant, Belgium: I miss the smile and nod you get when you walk past people. I miss the wind and sea in particular. I miss the craic and the self-deprecating banter. I miss the solitude that can be found within 30 minutes of anywhere in Ireland. I don’t miss the poor infrastructure or the M50 middle-lane huggers (90 per cent of drivers, it seems). I don’t miss the darker winter evenings. I don’t miss the poor and expensive healthcare. I don’t miss the unrealistic prices of property or the lunacy of taxing small landlords so much that it prices them out of the market.

I don’t miss the small-town politics, especially Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in bed together. I don’t miss how racist and right-wing some of Irish society has become. Still, it’s home, and I love my trips to Ireland. Someday, after 30-plus years away, I will return.

How lucky I am to be far from crushing greyness of Dublin

Barrie-John, Pennsylvania, US: I miss the extended Christmases. I miss Eurovision being in the evening rather than the afternoon, when it seems to be over too soon. Everything else I have here through the internet: the sweets, the soda bread, even the biscuits. I cherish the beauty around me here, so different from the ugly suburbia where every house looks the same, with the same tidy gardens and scrawny trees. The sun, whether it be cold or warm, is a daily blessing; it lifts my spirits and makes me think how lucky I am to be far from crushing, constant greyness of Dublin.

I miss the camaraderie and community

Yvonne, Cayman Islands: The thing I miss about Ireland is Dublin on a sunny day, with people overflowing from the pubs or eating ice cream like it’s the first time they have tasted it. There is a sense of camaraderie and community that is very rare elsewhere.

I don’t miss the taxes, which are far too high. As a self employed barrister, I had to pay an effective rate of income tax at 56 per cent, plus charge VAT at 21 per cent to my clients. Crippling taxes like that make it impossible to get on in life. And, while I acknowledge no income tax is very rare, and impossible to run a big nation state on, Ireland’s rates are excessive and its tax system too complicated.

I feel safe walking in London, not like in Dublin

Cormac, London, England: I miss going to watch live GAA. The one thing I don’t miss is feeling unsafe walking around Dublin city centre, something I don’t feel when in the city in London, or London’s West End.

I’m happy here in Western Australia. If it only had a Penneys

Aoife, Western Australia: I emigrated to Western Australia in 2012. Originally from Cork, I spent 10 years living in Dublin with my husband before we made the decision to go, leaving a house in negative equity that we purchased in 2008. It’s a strange feeling being an expat. I love where I live now, in a regional town south of Perth. We never lived in the city here: it was straight to Bunbury, a beachside town that’s a great place to raise children. We had one when we left; she was 19 months old. Now we have four, aged 12, nine, six and three.

I still yearn for Ireland some days. And we are very focused on showing our kids Irish culture and history through books and films. My husband has a deep interest in the Irish Revolution and has collected a library of books to read.

What do I miss? The people; being surrounded by Cork accents on the bus to town and just soaking that in, never realising before I left that it was something I would appreciate differently in time. I miss the shared sense of identity and humour. It is sometimes a source of confusion here when I use a distinctly Irish phrase, like “That’s gas” or “Yer man”, and I forget that people don’t know what I mean. In that sense, I feel very lucky to have an Irish husband here. We have many in-jokes that even our kids scratch their heads about. At least I know that if I say “That’s mad, Ted,” he immediately understands the reference.

Other things I miss are places. Dún Chaoin, West of Dingle, is where my soul belongs. Anytime I have gone home since 2012, I always find the time to sit on the grass above the pier there and just stare in awe at the seascape before me. It moves me deeply, and I miss it. My grandfather was born in Dingle, and I feel a huge grá for the area and its people.

When I think of the things I don’t miss, number one is usually the rain. Although it does rain here in winter, I am pretty much guaranteed glorious weather for at least six months, if not more. I don’t miss the cost of housing, either. I don’t think we would have had four children if we’d stayed in Ireland. Apart from that, I feel that the things I do miss outweigh those I don’t. But I’m still happy here in Western Australia. If it only had a Penneys life would be perfect.

I wonder when I will see Ireland again. Flights are now prohibitively expensive for a family of six, so I really feel that distance and the uncertainty. We will go to a St Patrick’s Day Festival on Saturday for the first time, being organised by the southwest Irish Community group. There will be food trucks and Irish musicians and we’ll meet an Irish friend and his kids there. It never feels the same, though.

Whenever I visit Ireland I am reminded of why I left

Catherine, Spain: I moved permanently to southern Spain in 2019 because of the rising cost of living and bad weather in Ireland, having taken early retirement from the HSE. I miss nothing about Ireland: whenever I visit I am reminded of why I left, as it has become even more expensive. I have a great quality of life here, far better than I could have in Ireland.

Ireland is great for visiting but not for living

Fi, Zurich, Switzerland: I’ve been living in Switzerland for a year, though I returned a lot to Dublin between October and December, as a parent was in hospital. I don’t miss inadequate healthcare or talking to hard-working nurses and doctors in Beaumont Hospital who should have finished their shift an hour ago as they were taking care of patients. Here I can get a GP appointment within a few days, and everything is efficient.

When out walking, I don’t need to watch out for dog poop: here people clean up and show respect for their neighbours. Kids walk safely to and from school from the age of five – no queues of SUVs outside the schools. Public transport is brilliant. I thought people would be less friendly, but I’ve found that efforts I make are appreciated, and I now have Swiss friends.

I do miss walks by the sea; woodland walks aren’t quite the same. Ireland is great for visiting but not for living. The wasted potential is obvious.

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