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Struggling to survive back home

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Returning home someday is the dream of many an Irish immigrant who comes to the U.S.  APRIL DREW spoke to some of the many who have made the move, and found that their lives aren’t all that they hoped they’d be.

Several Irish immigrants who moved back to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger boom are now struggling on a daily basis to have a fraction of the life they had while living in the U.S.

Some of these returned immigrants spoke candidly to the Irish Voice about the realities of their lives in Ireland, and what they would do differently if given a second chance.

Norma Lynch, 36, spent nearly four years living in New York. She was 29 when she arrived and 33 when she left.

Lynch, who returned to Ireland because she missed family too much, worked various jobs here and always had money in her back pocket.

Since returning to Ireland Lynch has been unable to have the same standard of living she once was accustomed to in New York.
She has been working as a supermarket supervisor since October 2007, but her income is proving difficult to live on.

“It’s very tough to live on a wage here, what with the cost of living and accommodation being so expensive and trying to pay for a car, petrol (gas), tax, insurance … it’s just so hard,” said Lynch.

“And forget about taking a holiday, there is no money left over at the end of the week to save for any vacations,” she added.

Lynch, while living in New York, was earning triple her current wages, and treated herself to many a shopping spree.

“I just miss having the financial freedom to go where I please and spend what I want,” she said.

Lynch, if given an opportunity again, would move back to New York “in a heartbeat.”

“I guess for now I’ll just have to make do with what I have and count my blessings that I even have a job in this crazy economy,” she added.

Like Lynch, Hugh Shalvey, 30, left the U.S. after spending five years working as an elevator engineer in Manhattan because he too missed family and friends. 

Shalvey, from Co. Monaghan and now living in Co. Donegal, returned to a prosperous Ireland in 2007.  He was lucky to secure employment in the same trade upon returning home, but admits his job is currently “very unstable.”

“I worry every day for my job. Things have gotten super quiet so I just don’t know,” Shalvey told the Irish Voice.

Shalvey, who lived in Queens while he was here, said life was much easier when he first returned to Ireland.

“It’s so much tougher financially now than it was when I first came back home,” he said.

“I’m still lucky to be working because a whole lot of my family and friends are out of work, and it’s hard to survive when things are so expensive here.”

Shalvey would consider returning to New York if his job does go, but it would be a decision he would have “to think long and hard about making.”

Diane O’Leary and her husband Donnach returned to Ireland in December 2005, during the height of the Celtic Tiger boom, but are recently feeling the pinch of the recession.

O’Leary and her then fiancée, who live in Co. Kerry, planned to visit New York for three months but stayed three years.

“We moved home in the end because we felt it was time, plus we are both home birds,” said O’Leary, who recently gave birth to a baby boy.

Both secured employment immediately, her husband in his field of construction, and the couple is still working, but money isn’t the same as it used to be.

“It’s so much harder now financially than when we first moved home. We really have to watch our spending, and life can be difficult trying to make ends meet,” she admitted.

Upon their return the O’Learys built a big house during the boom and are now met with high mortgage payments at the end of every month.

“Trying to pay a mortgage that is ridiculously high is very hard, and of course the price of everything for a young baby is crazy too so it’s tough to be honest,” O’Leary said honestly.

O’Leary, who misses the “freedom” of life in New York, said despite the financial difficulties they face on a day to day basis, they love the “security of having family nearby” and wouldn’t consider moving back to the U.S.

“We’ll struggle on and get through it like everyone else,” she said optimistically.

Brendan O’Donovan, 36, lived in Boston for 10 years before returning to Co. Tipperary in 2006.

O’Donovan, a carpenter by trade, spent most of 2006 and 2007 working with family and “made a few pounds.”

O’Donovan, who moved back to Ireland because his girlfriend at the time wanted to, told the Irish Voice that his first year and a half back home was a success.

“I really thought I’d made the right decision.  I was bringing home anywhere between €800 and €1,000 a week and for Ireland that was great,” said O’Donovan.

Today the Co. Tipperary man is lucky to make €300 a week.

“I am lucky to get two jobs a week and that just about keeps me going. There are some weeks, if I’m being honest, I could spend looking out the window because it’s that quiet,” he said.

O’Donovan, who “was lucky to have bought a house before the prices of houses went through the roof,” has a mortgage “that is manageable,” but recently had to sell his Jeep and downgrade to a smaller car.

“In America I was used to a fairly decent income, I had two cars on the road, a lovely apartment that we rented and I can safely say about five holidays a year,” he said.

“In Ireland the farthest I’ve been in two years is a wedding in Dublin.”

O’Donovan said he “can’t return” to the U.S. because of visa issues, but in the morning, “hand on my heart” if a visa opportunity arose, he would be on the “next plane out of Ireland.”

Rita Delaney, from Co. Offaly, also lived in Boston for 17 years before returning to Ireland in September.

“It was now or never,” Delaney told the Irish Voice on Tuesday.

“It’s something I’ve always said I wanted to do -- and the longer you stay away the harder it is to move back so I felt it was the right time,” she said.

After losing her job here in the administration field Delaney, 50, made the life changing decision to return to Ireland, a country she now realizes “is a complete mess.”

“I guess I always had this fantasy of living back in Ireland and it being wonderful, but I haven’t had much of that lovie dovie feeling recently,” jokes Delaney, while saying it’s pouring rain outside and everything looks grim.

“There are so few jobs it’s really not great here,” she said.

While actively searching for a job on a daily basis, Delaney, who paid years of taxes while working in Ireland before moving to Boston when she was 33, assumed she would be entitled to the job seekers allowance the Irish government provides, about $260 a week.

“I was told because I didn’t have habitual residency that I wasn’t entitled to any money,” she said.

Habitual resident means you must be living in Ireland for a certain number of years before being granted social welfare payments.  Community welfare officers in the case of supplementary welfare allowance will decide whether a person satisfies the habitual residence condition.

Delaney was told she needed to be in the country two-plus years before qualifying.

“It’s just ridiculous, and what’s worse is that the people in the social welfare offices were so rude and basically told me to go back to Boston,” she said.

Since her return Delaney has been staying with friends in Dublin and living on what little savings she made in the U.S.  She has been actively pursuing a job but to date has not had any luck finding something.

Delaney is currently appealing the job seekers allowance issue and hoping that her case will be reviewed sooner rather than later.
“I really want to stay here but who knows, in two weeks I may be all set to go back to Boston,” she said.

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