It could be said that my decision to go home was hastily made. But, after a month back in Dublin, I have absolutely no regrets.
News of my imminent departure was greeted by some New York friends as if I’d broken my front teeth. Their expressions (facial and verbal) suggested an a even measure of squeamishness and condolence.
It made me aware that, in the minds of almost all younger emigrants, there’s a nagging voice telling them that “going home” is not an option. Maybe it’s an essential part of dealing with the challenges of their new environment. Like soldiers, to think of retreat is to admit defeat.
But there are times when retreat can be of strategic value. It offers new perspectives. Years spent in exile will have changed the emigrant...and changed the place he or she departed from. So, old ground may offer new opportunities.
Happily, changes that have taken place in Ireland since 2010 have been for the better.
A phrase I have constantly heard since arriving back in Dublin is “things aren’t so grim”... and that would certainly seem to be the case.
It’s a pleasant contrast with the old lament of “we’re done for.” It contrasts too with the view of Ireland from afar. Peering through the lens of the media it can look as if the country is about to sink into the Atlantic, while the demoralized population wallows in despair. This is a distortion. In the Ireland that has greeted me, there’s a distinct feeling that things are getting better.
Until 2008, I had worked at a steady pace, mainly on magazines, around food and wine, weddings, travel, the finer things in life. But all of this fell flat as investment in advertising dropped away. When I left for New York, I was working for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. The trip to the Big Apple was supposed to be a three week gig, organizing a fundraising event. I never dreamed that I’d be there for five years.
And they were five great years. I loved living in Harlem, working in Times Square and enjoying all of the cultural benefits that New York offers. But, in the end, Dublin’s siren call could not be ignored.
On coming back, what’s immediately obvious is that the streets are lively with merrymakers. A mild but sunny summer is really helping peoples' moods and the ever-stoic Dubs carry their burdens casually. Pubs and restaurants may be fewer and less busy than they used to be, but the ambience is pleasant and the menus varied.
For a month I’ve been taking in all that I missed about home: daily walks by the sea; a back garden wild with flowers; talkative evenings with friends and family; wide open, ever-changing skies and, of course, sausages, cheese, brown bread and a long list of delicious foods that I must soon give up...well, fairly soon.
Thankfully, those near-and-dear to me have not been too seriously affected by the harsh economic times. So it’s easy to feel that everything’s “business as usual.”
This, however, is a limited perspective. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones.
Firstly, I grew up just a 25-minute walk from O’Connell Bridge. Ten minutes downstream from there, a cluster of international high-tech companies has grown up, vibrating with creativity. And, across the Liffey from them is the remarkably resilient International Financial Services Centre with over 30,000 busy employees.
There is a buzz too. One evening I attended a Startup Grind seminar in one of the Google buildings, on Barrow Street. After listening to the inspiring interview with Eventbrite co-founders Julia and Kevin Hartz, who have just opened their Dublin office at the Digital Hub, we walked to nearby Slattery’s pub to watch a World Cup semi-final. The multi-lingual crowd from the Grand Canal Dock area was hopping!
Dublin has created its own immigrant “melting-pot” and that is bubbling with energy and enthusiasm just like New York's.
All of which is excellent – for the economy, and for those who have the qualifications and experience needed for such work. For those who haven’t, the situation can still be dire.
Youth unemployment remains alarmingly high. And, outside the cities, things are even worse. Many of my Irish New York friends come from small towns. I know that they have been dismayed, on visits home, to find that almost all their peers have gone in search of greener pastures. There’s no doubt that anyone attempting a permanent return to those small communities would find reintegration extremely difficult.
But dear-old, not-so-dirty Dublin has continued to bring me luck. I’ve found a pleasant apartment, in a good neighborhood, at a reasonable rent. This, I am assured by one and all, is a major achievement because – difficult as it is to believe, after all the reckless building of the “Celtic Tiger” – there are not enough homes available. The city needs 25,000 new houses every year. Fewer than 1,000 are being built. So, inevitably, rents and property prices are rising, at an alarming pace.
Real estate agents and auctioneers are much in evidence again, with smiles on their faces.
But families, especially those who are “returning,” will not be amused. Hopefully, before this trend gets out of hand, a sensible policy will be put in place to get the builders working again.
If we can learn from our mistakes, avoid squandering our resources on property speculation, investing instead in a talent-based economy that harnesses our skills in technology, business, agriculture and the arts...then, maybe, lots more of us will consider the not-so-risky decision to come home.
* Kate Hickey is Managing Editor of IrishCentral based in Dublin.