Monday 17 December 2018

Returning to Ireland after 10 years: 'Plenty of times in the past year, I've wished we hadn't moved home'

Figures from the CSO show that since 2012 nearly 127,000 Irish emigrants have moved back to live in Ireland. Mum-of-four Deirdre Youell (53) tells how her family swapped life in the Middle East for Sherkin Island, Co Cork, after nearly a decade away

New life: Jez and Deirdre Youell pictured at her pub, the Jolly Roger, on Sherkin Island, West Cork Photo: Denis Boyle
New life: Jez and Deirdre Youell pictured at her pub, the Jolly Roger, on Sherkin Island, West Cork Photo: Denis Boyle

When you move back, you get a lot of questions. People think you might have come back because it was dangerous where you were or not a pleasant place to live, or because you couldn't get a drink there - a total misconception.

Then, of course, there are the people who think that because you've been in the Middle East, you've been running an oil well or something over there and brought back millions ­- there's an idea that the UAE is synonymous with making a fortune, which, unfortunately, isn't true either.

The reality is actually much more mundane. Myself and my husband Jeremy had both been teaching in international schools attended by our four children. Our eldest (now 25) returned to Ireland some years earlier and that was a big thing. Usually when kids go away to college there's a transition period where they're home every weekend looking for their laundry done and their Sunday roast. In this instance, we were all plunged in at the deep end, thousands of miles apart. We talked about it as a family and decided that, largely for our children's education, we wanted to come back to Ireland and have a more seamless transition when they moved on to the next stage.

The children are very broad-minded, well-travelled kids, but it doesn't mean the move has been easy for them. When we first moved to Qatar, the three youngest were three, five and eight. Moving at that age is a lot more straightforward compared to now when they are 12, 14 and 17. They've gone from travelling with their mum and dad to school to two of them boarding during the week and one at the local school in Skibbereen.

Life has changed totally for my husband Jez and I too. We left our careers as teachers to become owners and managers of the Jolly Roger Pub on Sherkin. My mother came from the island, so I had a life-long connection here. When I was back visiting family in the summer of 2014, I saw the place had closed down and it looked so sad. Jez and I were already talking about coming back and this looked like a new challenge, an adventure, something new, and we thought why not?

Living here is beautiful. We've swapped a sea view of the Gulf for a sea view of the Atlantic and we're surrounded by nature. But for anyone returning home, you have to get rid of the rose-tinted glasses. In terms of moving into a community, you've got to start again and make relationships, make a home and make a life.

In many ways it's easier moving overseas. When you do that, you go to a certain employer who provides certain supports. There are new colleagues arriving at the same time for you to share the experience with and existing colleagues there to act as a kind of welcome party and show you the ropes. There's a community ready-made to be your social life and ease your process in terms of bureaucracy.

When you come home, none of that is available. There were definitely elements of the Crosscare Migrant Project report, and those tales of not getting as warm a welcome as you'd hoped, that resonated with me. When you come back you feel a little bit vulnerable. It's a time of stress and change - you've left a life behind with friends in it and it's not possible just to replace that.

But the reality is, people have lived without you. Everyone has moved on. The people who had been in my previous life when I lived in Ireland, they're not in the same life.

They may seem to be on the outside - they may live in the same house or be in the same job - but life will have changed for them and if you haven't been on the scene for those changes, then it can be hard to slot back in. There will be some threads you can pick up, but also times when you'll have to start again.

You have to be optimistic, but also realistic, and those two aren't always compatible. I'd say there have been plenty of moments in the past year since we moved back where I've wished we hadn't! Unexpected things have been tough. I don't object to paying my taxes, but there are many more taxes than I expected, especially as a small business owner with a very short season. Bringing workers, equipment and goods to the island is very expensive and logistically challenging, as is removing waste and unwanted items.

Little things too - like in the UAE, it's the norm to have a cleaner and I miss having someone come for a few hours, two days a week. Here it's not as common and it's not affordable. We still had no landlines working on the island since Ophelia struck and we lost our electricity and water for several days.

From a financial point of view, there's no getting away from the fact that Ireland is an expensive country. Ridiculous isn't even a strong enough word to describe the price of car insurance for expats. The fact that you've been driving overseas counts for nothing... it's appalling.

And of course it was lovely having a bit more sunshine in our lives, especially from October to April in the UAE when the climate was very pleasant.

But it could be hard too. I remember hot weather and sandstorms where you couldn't go outside and it was just as depressing as being stuck inside when it's lashing rain here!

When you first get back after being away, you'll maybe gorge on your Tayto crisps and Barry's tea or pints of Murphy's, but ultimately being back is more to do with family and longer term things. When you're away, if someone gets engaged or graduates or has a baby and it happens when you're not home for holidays, then you miss it. I was on an airplane when my mother died. Events happen in families, bad and good, and it's important to me that now, if someone is sick and in need of support or has a baby and needs a bit of help, then I can be around to make those connections. That's something that's important to the kids too.

We're committed to staying in Ireland for the foreseeable future - at least until the business is established and the children are through school. This is actually the third time I've returned home from living abroad and every time I hear the same question: 'Now, is that you home for good?' It seems like such an important question to people, almost as if you get brownie points for staying.

But we'll see, with active retirement and volunteering overseas, there's still the possibility the wanderlust hasn't gone for good.

In conversation with Chrissie Russell

Irish Independent

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