With no jobs, piling debt and no prospects in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, one Irish family made the painful choice to leave their home behind and start anew in New York, even though they will live here undocumented. They are pleased with how the move has gone thus far, they tell April Drew.
Recession-hit Ireland has forced a mother and father and their two children to pack their lives into four suitcases, bid adieu to family and move 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean for a life that promises hope and prosperity – even though they will soon lapse into an undocumented status.
Paul and Rachel (not their real names) were, like thousands of other Irish families, suffering the effects of the severe economic downturn in Ireland.
They were about to lose their home. The family business had gone into bankruptcy. Finding the money to pay outstanding bills was becoming a nightmare, and putting food on the table was a constant struggle.
“What choice did we have really?” Paul, 31, said to the Irish Voice over a cup of Barry’s Tea last week.
“A life in New York can give us back what we lost in Ireland and help us back on our feet,” said Rachel, 30, taking a sip of her tea.
Two months ago Rachel, Paul and their two boys arrived in the Big Apple, not knowing many people, but full of hope and optimism.
They were determined to leave the physical and emotional effects of the Irish recession behind them and start fresh.
A new life in a new country -- a country they visited in the past and felt a connection to -- is what they have set out to achieve, and so far it has been a success.
Rewind three years. Paul had a successful plumbing business with seven staff at his disposal. His business was thriving -- so busy, in fact, that he had to refuse jobs because he didn’t have the time to complete them.
Rachel could afford to stay at home and look after their now 11-year-old and 18-month-old sons. They had two cars, nice clothes and a great social life. They wanted for nothing.
“Things were great for a while,” remembers Paul. “But everything went downhill very fast.”
The past 12 months saw a dramatic change in their lifestyle.
“It was really a knock-on effect. People weren’t getting paid so I wasn’t getting paid. I was owed a lot of money, and in reality I couldn’t keep going so I lost the business,” Paul admitted before stepping out to tend to their youngest son.
Paul, the proud breadwinner, had to do what he never envisioned doing. He had to draw Irish unemployment payments, which meant relying on the Irish government to put food on the table for his family.
“I had to go on the dole in the finish up. We couldn’t afford a week’s shopping and we were heading down the road of the house being taken off us because we couldn’t afford the mortgage,” he said upon returning to the kitchen table.
Realizing they had hit rock bottom, Paul and Rachel sat down to discuss their options.
“That life at home wasn’t for me anymore. I seriously thought about what could be done to get us out of this hole,” said Paul.
“Ya, we really began to think outside of the box to see what options were available to us,” added Rachel before slipping off to put their baby to bed.
Paul admitted the financial strain his family was under the few months before leaving Ireland was very stressful, but not having any work to get up for each morning was even more emotionally challenging and difficult to deal with.
“It got to the stage where I couldn’t get out of bed. I was depressed to be honest, and that was really hard,” says Paul candidly.
“I’ve been working since I was 16, so to all of a sudden to be out of a job was a killer.”
Having heard about the success many Irish immigrants have had in New York, and with a cousin already established here, the family made the difficult decision to put the pause button on their life in Ireland.
“Naturally it was a hard decision, and our families were upset that we were moving, but we said we will give it a year and see after that,” explains Paul.
They are acutely aware that in a few weeks they will be over their 90-day legal limit stay in the U.S., but it’s not a concern at the minute.
Said Paul, “We really felt we had no choice if we wanted to give our sons a good life” so becoming undocumented is something the family are willing to accept.
After weeks of hotels, self-catering apartments and temporary rentals, the immigrant family has finally secured a cozy little home in an Irish enclave north of Manhattan. They have begun to settle and enjoy life in New York.
The family has resorted to renting their nearly four-year-old house back home. The income from the rent will cover the interest on their mortgage.
“We told our bank manager that was all we could afford to pay at the moment (interest) and he accepted it thank God,” said Rachel, hoping to hang onto their Irish home for as long as possible.
Their older son has been enrolled in a local school, and already Rachel is comparing the cost of sending a child to school in New York and Ireland.
“I can’t believe how great it is here,” said Rachel.
“At home before the child even begins school you end up spending hundreds of euros on school books and uniforms. That’s not the case here at all. It’s much more affordable and we’re grateful for that.”
To date their experience in New York has been good.
“People have been very good to us since we arrived,” said Rachel.
Only days after arriving Paul secured a job in his field of expertise, and is now working up to six days a week.
“I’m happy again. I’m working, providing for the family and it’s all looking very positive,” he said.
Rachel is currently interviewing for waitressing jobs and hopes to secure employment in the next week or so.
Their 11-year-old is also settling fast. He has begun playing Gaelic football with a local team, made several friends in the neighborhood and is excited with the new venture.
“Ya, it’s great,” he told the Irish Voice.
“I have lots of friends that I play with across the road in the school and they are very nice.”
Paul and Rachel realize that their children too will be undocumented, but feel a life in New York without papers is still a better option than a life in Ireland with no money for food, or having their home repossessed.
“We’ve made the right decision,” said Paul confidently.
They remain positive.
“This is a great country. How many thousands of Irish have come before us and made a success of themselves? We too will be like them,” added Paul with a smile.