Sunday 16 June 2019

'I returned home sounding like Princess Diana' - Miriam O'Callaghan

Work Adventure: Miriam O’Callaghan spent 10 years living in England before returning to Ireland in the early 1990s
Work Adventure: Miriam O’Callaghan spent 10 years living in England before returning to Ireland in the early 1990s

Claire Mc Cormack

She returned home with a slight British twang, but it took Miriam O'Callaghan "about an hour" to settle back into Ireland after emigrating for a decade.

"I sounded a bit like Princess Diana myself when I look back at some old home videos," Miriam told the Sunday Independent.

"If you live in England for 10 years, it's going to impact a little bit on your accent but I lost it fairly quickly when I got home," she said.

In 1983, at the age of 23, Miriam - like thousands of her peers - left a grim, recession riddled Dublin to secure work abroad.

"I didn't really feel sad leaving and I don't see that in a bad way. I tried to look at it as an adventure and to see that the experience I would build up away would benefit me when I came home," said Miriam, who had just qualified as a solicitor at the time.

Having realised it would take another two years of study to work as a lawyer in the UK, she decided to apply for a job as a television researcher, and as she said "the rest of history".

"I came home three or four times a year, at Christmas, and I was delighted to see my family and friends but I didn't think 'I wish I was here," said Miriam who was often sent to Northern Ireland to cover The Troubles for the BBC. I was having a great time in London, I was working on a brilliant television programme so, to be honest, I was living a good life, an exciting life and I loved the world of British broadcasting," she said.

However, as the years passed by, and her first daughter Alannah was born, Miriam's deep connection to her homeland grew stronger.

"Like me, a lot of young emigrants go in their early 20s and then get to their early 30s,and maybe have young children, and are thinking, should I come back now?"

In the early 1990s, Miriam was headhunted by RTE to present Marketplace - a programme on current affairs. "Did I find it difficult coming home? In all honesty, no. I adore Ireland and in the 90s it was doing very well, it seemed an exciting place to be," said Miriam, who returned with her then six-year-old daughter Alannah, six-month-old Clara, and "was heavily pregnant with twins."

Despite the upheaval of moving her family, getting involved with the school system and having a job lined up "really helped" the broadcaster settle back.

"I came home as an emigrant when I thought the time was right. But if you are going to come home, you need to plan it almost like emigrating," she said. "Emigration can be very rewarding and if you come home with the right attitude, all the experience you built up away and all the friends you made will remain your friends for life."

Unlike Miriam's happy and stress-free return to Ireland, Trish Murphy, psychotherapist at the Family Therapy Association, warns that some of today's emigrants may struggle to "fit back in".

"When they come back, they might face disenchantment because they don't quite fit in and things have changed a lot since they left," said Ms Murphy, who has assisted many emigrants to reintegrate.

Common challenges include: the Irish dating scene, a loss of independence or freedom, a sense of resentment from peers, nagging families and grappling with Irish weather.

"A lot of complex emotional stuff goes on when they come back and there are more challenges than they imagine," she said. Ms Murphy advises emigrants "not to make assumptions that things will be exactly like they were before" and to have "fundamentals" such as accommodation and employment lined up before returning.

Sunday Independent

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