While Ireland’s economy was at the top of its game in the past couple of years, some Irish immigrants residing in the U.S. decided there was no better time to return to the land of their birth and set up a life.
Was it a good idea now that the Irish economy is the worst it has been in 80 years? Do these immigrants regret returning home?
Elaine and Dermot Boyle, who now reside in Killybegs, Co. Donegal, lived in the U.S. for 16 years. In 2007 they decided to pack their lives into two containers and cross the Atlantic for good.
“Our main reason for moving to Ireland was that our son, Scott, was starting school and we wanted him near his cousins and our families,” said Elaine, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland to Irish parents. Elaine’s husband, Dermot, 40, hails from Killybegs.
During their time in the U.S. Dermot had a very successful flooring business and Elaine, 37, had very rewarding jobs. Although it took a few months to get their feet on the ground after returning to Ireland, the Boyles were the new Celtic Tiger cubs.
“Dermot got reacquainted with an old friend from New York and together they started an electrical company, and I got a part time job doing night audit in a five star hotel,” says Elaine.
It wasn’t difficult to get a job when they first arrived home. Elaine saw an ad in the local newspaper. She applied for the job and was hired immediately.
Dermot’s business took off as soon as it started. They were on a roll.
Now two years on, the pair, who come back to visit family in New York once or twice a year, are as happy as the day they touched down in Ireland.
“We are both still as busy here in Ireland as we were in New York,” said Elaine.
When asked if they would return to New York again, Boyle said it wasn’t on the cards. “We are both very well settled in,” she said.
Elaine, who admits it took her a few months to warm to the rain, added, “We have made lots of new friends and everyone is doing great, we are very happy, which is the main thing; to be happy.”
Although several of their close friends in Ireland have been hit hard and fast by the recession, Boyle adds that their friends from New York who also returned home are still employed.
Elaine said you couldn’t put a price on the close relationships that ensued with family after returning home from being abroad for so long.
“Moving back to Ireland has been a great move for our family. Yes it’s hard work -- with the rain -- but having family around us and seeing how happy my son is and having him grow up with his grandparents and cousins is the best part of it,” adds Elaine.
Despite the rain and the cost of living being quite high in Ireland, Elaine said that the country had come a long way from the Ireland her husband left 18 years ago.
“Just for children alone they now have soccer, horseback riding and swimming, so we are flat out with kid’s activities. Everything they have in New York is right on our own doorstep now,” she said.
After spending three years in New York, Norma Lynch from Ballyduff, Co. Kerry decided it was time to move home to be near family.
Lynch, 34, admits she became very homesick after attending her sister’s wedding in Ireland in the summer of 2007.
“After the wedding I found it very difficult to settle back into New York, so I decided to book my one-way ticket home for October that year,” said Lynch.
While working out her notice at a local restaurant in Yonkers, Lynch already had her next job lined up in Ireland. “Thank God I went home when I did,” said Lynch.
In 2007 jobs were plentiful. She landed a job in a local supermarket as a supervisor, a job she still has today.
“I guess I was lucky because things were still good in Ireland when I arrived home,” said Lynch.
Had Lynch returned to Ireland in the past few months and tried to get a job she feels she would have been out of luck.
“There is no way I’d get a job now if I came home. Factories are closing, businesses are moving to other countries. Everyone in Ireland is either being let go or their days are cut down to two or three,” she said.
Despite still having a job, Lynch said the recession has certainly taken a toll on her social life. “Because things have slowed down so much and people are losing their jobs right left and center, nobody goes out anymore because they don’t have money like they used to,” she said.
Although Lynch said she doesn’t earn half the money she used to in New York and can’t afford to go on sporadic shopping sprees like she enjoyed doing while living in the U.S., she is adamant that being surrounded by family and friends is worth the sacrifice.
“While I was living in New York I missed my nieces being born and my nan dying and that was the hardest part for me, so I didn’t want that to happen any longer. Home I came and I’m happy I did, even if things are tight,” said Lynch.
For a young Co. Clare couple, the recession means postponing their wedding until they can afford to pay for it.
Sinead, 25, and Patrick, 28, came to New York in 2002 and left in 2005. While in New York, the pair worked full time and earned great money, Patrick as a carpenter and Sinead as a waitress.
A streak of loneliness prompted them to book a ticket home to Ireland for Christmas 2005, and upon their return to the U.S. in January 2006 the pair were refused entry because they had been undocumented.
Upset that their life in New York had come to an abrupt halt, they were left with little choice but to get on with things. Patrick quickly obtained a job in his carpentry field, and Sinead in an office.
“Jobs were easy to come by back then,” recalls Sinead.
Now it’s a very different situation. Although Sinead is still working her fiancé has been out of work for a few months. She describes living in Ireland in these turbulent times as “scary.”
The pair found Ireland very expensive upon their return in 2005, but now that there is only one wage between then both they are finding it even more difficult, and as a result have not been able to get married.
“And,” said Sinead, “we won’t be getting married for another few years, and even at that we may have to just go away with family to do it. There are weddings being cancelled all over the place here because it’s just way too expensive and people are out of work.”
If given a free pass to the U.S. Sinead said that although it would be tempting (especially for the fine weather), she personally wouldn’t go back despite the basic standard of living they have in Ireland.
“I am very settled in now, and although there is a lot more to do in New York and it’s a lot cheaper I love being with my family,” she said.
Sinead said they are a lot better off than many of their friends.
“Thank God we don’t have any kids or a mortgage. I hear the girls at work talking and they are so scared. Their husbands are carpenters and plumbers and they are out of work because no one is building at the moment,” she said.
Former Irish Voice reporter, Georgina Brennan, returned to Ireland in 2006 to marry her childhood sweetheart Chris Stynes.
Brennan, who worked as an editor for a newspaper in her hometown of Carlow when she returned, said she feels the downturn in Ireland has taken its toll on the Irish who never left rather than those who left and returned. Why?
“Because,” said Brennan, “Irish people went a bit mad and thought that champagne and first class flights, €400 dresses and €1,000 shoes were must have items.”
Brennan continued, “If the fella next door had a brand new BMW, then the Irishman had to follow suit and get an MG. The prevalent attitude was, 'Whatever you can do I can do better,' seen starkly in court rooms across the country where one guy pulled a bottle during a bar fight so the other guy had to pull a knife.
“That attitude of one-upmanship has, with the economic freefall, seen devastation visit their doors much more so than the Irish fella who worked his tush off in America and saved every penny to buy a house or a car that only he and not the bank owned.”
Brennan, who has well settled back into life in Ireland, feels the reason the “returned” Irish are surviving the economic devastation is because they learned the “value of money” from Americans.
“These Irish don’t have the debts the Irish people have. Sure jobs have gone, companies closed down, but if you learned how to work hard in America you'll always find work in Ireland,” she adds.
“Both my husband and I are still working. Our jobs are long gone, but we found other work. That is the American way to do it,” said Brennan.
“The returned immigrants always tilled and ploughed themselves; they thought hard of giving their hard earned money over too easily. And for that reason, they will be the ones who now will steer Ireland back to reason, just like the returned immigrants did in the eighties.”