Saturday 17 August 2019

Flying home, Irish in the UK ponder an unsure 2017

At Dublin airport, not even Brexit can dampen the spirit of Irish nationals visiting loved ones, says Donal Lynch

Aisling O'Keefe from Cork and David Wheatley from London at Dublin Airport returning home to Ireland for Christmas.
Aisling O'Keefe from Cork and David Wheatley from London at Dublin Airport returning home to Ireland for Christmas.
Libby D'Arcy from Tipperary at Dublin Airport returning home to Ireland for Christmas.
Avril Williams from Tipperary Town at Dublin Airport returning home to Ireland for Christmas.

In the arrivals hall of Dublin airport it's clear that the Irish returning from Britain are not quite as warmly welcomed as returning emigrants from other countries.

The hand-painted signs at the barrier and the big, joyous reunions seem to be for long-haul visitors, while those straggling in from Luton and Gatwick make do with manly hugs and handshakes.

Even at this time of year many a bedraggled Celt returning from Britain leaves the airport on public transport. Their luggage is often discreet and rollable, the Christmas sparkle already somewhat dimmed by repeated playings of Mistletoe and Wine and the transportation experience of budget airlines.

If the short journey home is taken a little for granted it may be because the histories and attitudes of the two nations are so intertwined that we hardly even consider Britain another country. That may be about to change, however.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday that she will not rule out a change in the status of Irish nationals currently living in Britain after the UK leaves the European Union.

The announcement potentially leaves those who are already there in a more precarious position in the New Year. "The Irish who live there are wondering how it will play out," Libby D'Arcy, a food developer from Tipperary, said.

Matt Lynch and Anna Keating from Tipperary at Dublin Airport returning home to Ireland for Christmas.
Matt Lynch and Anna Keating from Tipperary at Dublin Airport returning home to Ireland for Christmas.

"Brexit did make a difference. People weren't expecting it. London was hugely in favour of staying and a lot of people didn't vote because they just automatically assumed that Britain would remain. I think we are affected but it's more the British people themselves are hugely effected. They are worried about how they will be able to work in other countries. I think many of them still don't quite believe it."

Traditionally we thought of emigrants as economic martyrs, who moved purely to get work, drowning their sorrows in Camden Town.

But there was always a cohort who couldn't wait to get away and relished the new adventure that living in the UK brings. Matt Lynch and Anna Keating, from Tipperary, finished college this summer and were looking forward to getting away, but they arrived in London just after Brexit had been decided.

"I work for a graphic design company, so they were on a real low in the aftermath of Brexit", Matt said. "It was definitely a bad decision for business, that's why Londoners were so against it. People who work there now don't want to work there."

Anna, who works in fashion, noted that the ties between the two countries are so strong that even Brexit won't make too much of a difference.

"It's the mentality really," she said. "There is London and everywhere else. Unless you are actually from London they only really register every other location as 'not London' - it doesn't matter if it's Liverpool or Dublin, or wherever."

Homecomings can be difficult. Morrissey, an Englishman with Irish parents, once wrote: "Whether you stay or stray, an in-built guilt catches up with you."

A few days back in the family home can turn even the most confident emigrant into the sulking teenager they once were. "I love being home, you definitely get babied a bit, but sure that's okay too", Libby added.

"I lost my wallet on the way over here so I'm going to have to ask Mam for money like I'm a teenager. So embarrassing."

Aisling O'Keefe, from Cork, is taking David Wheatley, from London, for his first Christmas with her family in Ireland. "It's not that nerve-wracking, he's been here before but this is the first time at this time of year," she laughed.

"It feels great to be back but we do wonder what will happen next year with Brexit. I used to live in a house with all English people - not one of them wanted Brexit to happen.

"There is worry about what comes next year in terms of it being a hard or a soft (Brexit) and what exactly both of those will mean."

There are many young Irish in Britain who moved over during the recession in search of jobs, particularly in the public service sector.

Avril Williams, from Tipperary, is a teacher in Edinburgh and moved there because teaching jobs were so thin on the ground here. "I know that if I stayed here I'd be unemployed, so there isn't really a choice," she said. "I'd love to come home, ideally, though, we'll see if the situation changes.

"I haven't noticed a massive change since Brexit, although of course Scotland was in favour of remaining. The main thing you would hear is English people telling you, 'If you have an Irish passport, make sure to hang on to it'.

"I think we'll be OK. The Irish are part of Britain and Brexit won't change that."

And, if it does change, there's always the duty free as consolation.

Sunday Independent

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