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The Irish who stayed to fight the Greek crisis

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Reunited: Edel Michailidou with her Greek husband Dimitris Michailidis and her two sons outside the Olympic Stadium. Photo: Maro Kouri

Reunited: Edel Michailidou with her Greek husband Dimitris Michailidis and her two sons outside the Olympic Stadium. Photo: Maro Kouri

Staying On: Gillian Martin-Efremiadis

Staying On: Gillian Martin-Efremiadis

Content: Sinead McGrath and her son Manus

Content: Sinead McGrath and her son Manus

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Reunited: Edel Michailidou with her Greek husband Dimitris Michailidis and her two sons outside the Olympic Stadium. Photo: Maro Kouri

It was early June 2012 and angry Greeks demonstrated on the streets of Athens. Missiles and petrol bombs were thrown at the parliament – the fingers were pointed at Berlin and anarchy threatened. Well-dressed men searched in bins for food. Greece's government debt-crisis threatened to destroy the Hellenic Republic.

Contingency plans had been put in place for the return of the drachma overnight and limits were placed on bank withdrawals.

I travelled to the country to see for myself the impact of the economic meltdown. Amid the mayhem, I met six Irish people for whom Greece had become home and asked how the crisis was impacting them.

Gradually the eyes of the international media moved elsewhere and away from the spotlight, buds of recovery emerged. The future may be ever so slightly brighter, but will the Irish expats I spoke to two years ago still be around to see Greece rise again?

I caught up with four of them this week and asked how they've coped since we last spoke in June 2012.

Edel Michailidou (nee Mulvihill)

From: Finuge, Kerry, now living in Athens

Age: 33

Profession: Radiographer

Family: Married with two sons

On a perfect June evening outside the James Joyce Pub in Athens, Edel Michailidou told me she felt her days in this beautiful city were numbered.

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The Kerry woman, married to Dimitris – a civil engineer from the city, felt options were running out. The couple had two young sons and Dimitris hadn't been paid for the previous six months.

"Soon after we met, I went back to Kerry for a trip with the boys and, while there, called into Kerry General Hospital in Tralee just to see if there were any positions going in the radiology department. I was so lucky with the timing – they offered me a job and our decision was made – we were leaving Greece."

By the end of June 2012 Edel had started work on a 12-month contract and she, Dimitris and their boys Manos, now aged seven, and Eddie (5) settled in Listowel.

"We had my family nearby and the boys settled into the local Dromclough national school and started playing GAA. Dimitris even helped out with the Under-6 Gaelic football team in Finuge."

For Dimitris though the transition was difficult. Despite his qualifications, he couldn't find employment in Ireland and so last July he returned to Greece and started working on newly resumed road projects.

"The plan was I'd finish my contract in Tralee and join him over there, but just as I was about to leave in September (2013) I was asked to take on the acting radiology service manager's role. It was a great opportunity so I said yes but it meant Dimitris would be away from the family for nearly six months. It was very difficult but we coped as best we could."

Last Christmas was the first time Edel had returned to Athens since June 2012 and, by February, the family were reunited in Greece permanently.

Dimitris now runs his own road engineering business. Edel is in the process of starting Medel Recruitment – a business which can supply Irish hospitals with highly qualified Greek doctors.

"We're slowly but surely settling back into life in Greece now. You can see more stability here than two years ago but things are still very difficult for many.

"We were the lucky ones who could escape for a while but now we're so delighted to be back where we belong."

Gillian Martin-Efremiadis

From: Cork, now living in Anavyssos 50km south of Athens

Age: 53

Profession: Publishing distributor

Family: Married with two sons

A month after I spoke with Gillian, she lost her job as her employers closed their offices in Athens.

"I decided to go back to Ireland to spend some time with my mother who was ill. She sadly passed away on March 17, 2013."

Back in Athens, the buds of an economic recovery resulted in some better news on the job front for Gillian.

"My former employers asked if I'd cover maternity leave – subsequently they offered me a permanent position which was wonderful. I work from home now."

But for Gillian's husband, who's a mechanic, the downturn has had a lasting impact. "My husband's job has been hit badly. It's got to the stage now where when something happens to your car you try to fix it yourself."

I ask if she thinks society is getting back to normal in Greece? "No. People are still under immense financial stress and the elderly are finding it especially tough with pension cuts. We're here to stay – Greece is our home."

Sinead McGrath

From: Athlone, now living in Athens

Age: 39

Profession: Head-hunter

Family: Married with a son and daughter

Sinead and her Greek husband Georgios met while studying in Karlsruhe and, when I spoke to them two years ago, the seeds of a plan to return to Germany with their children had been planted.

But 24 months on they're still here. "Moving to Germany was definitely something we seriously discussed," says Sinead. "But I decided to go back to work after taking a few years off to be a stay-at-home mum and managed to find a great job here in Athens. Interestingly, it's actually for the German market. I'm working for an international head-hunter in the life-sciences area."

Though things have improved for Sinead and her family (her son Manus is five and daughter Eva is two) she says life is still difficult for many. "People are still losing their jobs or are not paid for the work that they do."

But the determination to stay put remains.

"There are so many things to love (about Greece) the weather, people, food. Yes, there are problems but there are those no matter where you live. Our children are content here. Should our employment situation change, then we'd have to reconsider – but for now life is good."


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