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Life down under - Wexford expats discuss their experiences abroad

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Rachel Kenny from Ballygarrett

Rachel Kenny from Ballygarrett

Rachel Kenny from Ballygarrett

Rumour has it that the Irish economy is in a good place right now. The recovery has not only begun, it has kept going, and going, consigning that last, dastardly recession to the memory banks, a mere speck on the horizon.

But whereas unemployment is down, and there are jobs available, rising rents and low housing stock are driving people out of the country, contributing to another exodus of talented professionals; young, ambitious Irish people packing their bags and seeking pastures new.

And, in that regard, Wexford is no different from anywhere else, with thousands of people from all over the county booking their Visas on an almost daily basis.

In the first of a new series we speak to people from the county who have chosen to leave home, ask them why they left, about life abroad and whether they have any intention of coming home. This week we feature Wexfordians in Australia.

Poppy Dawkins, Oylegate

It was during one particularly difficult shift at work that Poppy Dawkins made the decision to emigrate.

After four years training as a nurse she had got a job in St. Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin, taking the first steps on what she hoped would be a long and fulfilling career.

But it didn't work out like that.

'If only somebody had told me how bad the conditions for nurses in Ireland were before I studied it for four years and fell in love with it,' says Poppy from her new home in Sydney.

'Everyone was telling us all to go to Australia, get out of the hospitals in Ireland and live a carefree life over in Oz. Better wages, better conditions, better patient to nurse ratios and obviously better weather.

'There was just one day in May or June of 2018 after a horrific shift where even a patient told me to go to Australia that I said "right, I'm just going to book it, now or never" and that was that,' she recalls.

At the age of 23 Poppy made the decision to leave, flying to Sydney by herself, linking up with a friend who had made the move a few months previous.

'I flew over on my own but I was lucky enough to be sat beside a girl from Limerick, Claire McGuire, who I had never met before who was flying out on her own too.

'I barely remember the flight over because we just chatted all the way here which made the transition so much easier for us both. I absolutely loved Australia as soon as I landed.

'I was walking through Coogee with just disbelief that this is where I was now living. I still remember that moment like it was yesterday. I headed straight to The Coach and Horses Hotel in Randwick for the Irish night on a Thursday to drink the jet lag away,' says Poppy.

Living in an area of Sydney with a large proportion of Irish emigrants, one which even has an Irish shop selling Tayto and Barry's tea, Poppy was fortunate enough to have a job in her chosen field arranged beforehand.

And she experienced something of a culture shock during her early days in her new position.

'It's not surprising that Aussies love the Irish to work for them because, not to tar them all with the same brush, but we work a lot harder and faster than Australians,' she says.

'It took me a long time to slow down my work pace in the hospital down to the pace they work. I always found myself having to try and look busy because I'd have all my work done in half the time because that's how we have to at home.'

Yet all those working in the medical profession have been busy in recent weeks, the unrelenting bush fires which have consumed Australia affecting people throughout the country,

'I work as a community nurse so a lot of my patients with respiratory issues are suffering with the air quality flaring up their conditions. It's been so heartwarming to see the Irish community pull together and help, especially when the fleet of Irish lorries travelled to the Armidale from Sydney with bottles water and supplies in the early stages of the fires in November.'

Communicating with loved ones via FaceTime and WhatsApp, Polly says she does miss home and believes that eventually she will return to Wexford to settle down.

'I knew from the moment I booked my flights that I wouldn't be out here for the rest of my life. I love Ireland too much, even though the weather is shocking, I couldn't see myself living long term anywhere else in the world.

'I was lucky enough to meet my boyfriend out here and he's on the same page so I think we're both looking forward to getting home at some stage to Wexford and Limerick to show off our counties to each other. Wexford will surely be the better county,' she says.

Joe Gallagher, Enniscorthy

At the age of 25 Joe Gallagher was stuck in a rut. His friends were passing him by, living their best lives, working and earning. Joe, by his own admission, was stagnating, wasting chance after chance, going nowhere.

Despite being an exceptional student (earning 590 points in his Leaving Cert) he had spent the years since leaving St Mary's CBS 'messing around', allowing life to pass him by, opportunities to go abegging.

All that changed when he made the decision to emigrate, when he enacted what he calls his 'Plan B'.

'I never expected to emigrate. I did really well in school but, to be honest, I wasted my chances. After many years messing around, Australia became my escape, my plan B,' says Joe.

'The biggest reason I left was I was stagnating, pickling, wasting. Watching all the lads pass me by, living and fulfilling their lives with me left behind. It broke my heart, absolutely in a selfish way, and something needed to change.'

And so he left, striking out on his own, moving to a part of the country not known for its Irish community, to Queensland and a small town named Tully.

'I came here knowing no one, but sure in my path. It was hard because. where I ended up, in the last five years I've probably met 10 Irish people.

Work was easy (to find) I was actually a bit upset that my holiday was cut short, I got a job on my first day. It wasn't special or flash, but it absolutely was freedom.'

That was five years ago. Joe is now engaged to be married, content with his lot, thriving in his new home.

'My life here is so different from home. I used to be depressed, feeling like I had no future. When I look back now it's like a long lost memory, that feeling of borrowing money just to get through. Now, I'm secure and happy.'

'It's very strange, to me Ireland is, right now, a distant memory. I can't imagine a future not in this country. I'll never come back. My life is here, my future is here.'

However, this coming August, for the first time since he left, Joe will return to Wexford, to Enniscorthy for a holiday, where he will be reunited with one special member of his family.

'It's such a strange feeling, missing home and all I've ever known, but at the same time knowing that I have made the right decision,' he says. 'Hardest for me is not being close to my elderly grandfather, and as morbid as it sounds, I just want him to survive to see each other one last time.'

Rachel Kenny, Ballygarrett

For Rachel Kenny it was a series of unfortunate events which led to her seeking pastures new.

In 2016 she had been working in a hotel in Clondalkin, commuting up and down from her home near Gorey. Like so many she had been unable to afford to rent in the capital, excessive costs making relocation impossible.

And so she joined the thousands of others on the M11, doing late night shifts, early morning shifts, weekends, until finally, tired of it all, she opted for something closer to home.

A new job beckoned, one in a restaurant in Gorey town, no more commuting, no more long hours at the wheel. However, just two months later the restaurant closed.

Undeterred, Rachel found another job, in Centra on Gorey's Main Street. Yet two weeks later she, and all the rest of the staff, were out of a job after it too, closed its doors for the last time.

This led to her making the decision which would ultimately change her life forever.

'After discussing all this with my friend we decided that Australia would be a great experience and hopefully things would have gotten better in Ireland when we came back,' she recalls.

In February of 2017 Rachel, then aged 26, and her friend said their goodbyes and headed to Melbourne, their only plan to get there in one piece and see what happened.

'We didn't plan much past arriving in Australia. I decided to move to the hostels while my friend stayed with her brother and it finally felt like the backpacker adventures were beginning.

'Everyone was so friendly and everyone just wanted to have a good time with no serious responsibilities. It was very freeing,' Rachel says.

However, they still needed to find work, and an encounter with two fellow Irish women led to them undertaking a mammoth road trip from one end of the country to the other.

Rachel and her friend were advised to travel to Darwin where work in traffic control was readily available for the right people and where, vitally, they could fulfil the criteria for their second year visas.

And so, after driving 3,750km, they immediately sat an exam to get their traffic management cards. Qualifications in tow, they drove to every company in the area, eventually finding work courtesy of a man from Cork, joining his mostly Irish staff. Mission complete.

At this point the plan was to return home to Ireland after two years, but then love intervened. Rachel had met Gary during her time in Australia and, with just six months left on her Visa, she decided to stay.

She is now in the process of getting sponsored by her employer to stay as a permanent resident, but even if that falls through she doesn't see herself returning home.

'I don't see myself moving back to Ireland. Me and Gary have already spoken about what happens if it got rejected and we said that if that did happen, that we would try set up a life in Canada.'

When asked if she misses home, Rachel replies, 'I do and I don't. I miss my friends and my family of course but its so much more stressful back home. Jobs are scarce, finding somewhere to rent that doesn't take every cent of your wages is a nightmare.'

Carl Fox, Barntown

Although he and his partner both had good jobs, a strong circle of friends, and an active and varied social life, as 2018 came to a close Carl Fox found himself debating whether to leave Ireland for good.

At the age of 27 Carl, like so many of his peers, was struggling to find appropriate housing, struggling to keep up with rent at an age when his parents and grandparents had been buying their first homes.

'Myself and my partner (Jade) both had decent jobs in Dublin, we had friends, clubs, communities, but the only places we could live were either with friends - which gets a bit old when you're in your late twenties - or by ourselves in a glorified box with damp walls and an unsecure tenancy,' Carl says.

'When your home situation isn't what you want it to be it's hard to be happy, even when everything else is going okay.'

Having grown up in Barntown and gone to school in St Peter's, Carl left Wexford to study engineering in Trinity, eventually finding work as a robotics engineer with a start-up in the capital.

The epitome of a talented young professional he in many ways represents the 'brain drain' Ireland is experiencing due to the housing crisis, the continued emigration of highly-qualifed, highly-skilled graduates to countries only too happy to have them.

Upon arriving in Sydney, Carl joined the thousands of Irish people contributing to the Australian economy.

'Work is very easy to come by in all shapes and sizes, the pay is really good too,' he says. 'There's definitely a more reasonable working environment here.

'Right now, it just seems like life is easier here. Ireland is in a position where it's hard to enjoy the good things at the moment, especially with the housing situation for younger adults trying to set themselves up.

'It just seems like the opportunity available here at the moment is too good to turn down.'

However, Carl has some words of warning for those thinking about joining him. Trying to get work in his area of expertise has proven difficult, but not for the reasons you might think.

'I've had to turn down several offers on account of our Visa situation, our intention is to stay long term, so you need employer sponsorship,' he says.

'I'd put out a warning to anyone planning to make the move, Visas aren't as easy to get as before, there's been a lot of rule changes recently. There are still options available, but make sure you do your homework on what you'll need well in advance.'

For those who do make the move though, there is no shortage of support from the sizeable Irish community.

'There are certain parts of the city where you can go and it feels like you're back home there's that many Irish heads knocking about,' Carl says.

With his first trip back to Ireland already planned for May, Carl will soon be reunited with a family he has been staying in touch with via FaceTime, with even his grandmother mastering the technology in order to share the latest news.

However, there's one thing which even technology can't replicate, something which the speciality shops in Sydney haven't been able to furnish the young Wexfordian with yet.

'I'd devour a chicken fillet roll,' Carl says when asked what he most misses about home.

Emma Murray, Ballinavary, Davidstown

What happens when one half of a couple wants to emigrate and the other doesn't? That was the dilemma facing Emma Murray when her partner, Micheal, chose to move to Australia in March of 2018.

Opting to stay at home she and Michael broke up, their time together seemingly at an end. But in this case, thousands of miles couldn't keep them apart, as Emma explains.

'My partner wanted to go somewhere for a while and we actually broke up and he came over to Australia in 2018. But we rekindled in June of that year and when he asked to me to come over for a holiday I agreed.

'When I left there to come home I had decided I would move over to him. He came home in December for me and I travelled back with him then, and the rest is history,' she says.

Yet acclimatising to her new surroundings proved difficult for the Ballinavary native.

'I didn't know anyone and I wasn't in the mood for a while to put myself out there. I'm not going to lie, I didnt think I would last it. But I stuck it out and persevered through my comfort zone and now I really enjoy it.

'I have lots of Irish people around me now. But I found it hard to make friends first because I wasn't out socialising very much in pubs and stuff.'

Not only has Emma adapted to her environment, she has undergone changes which can only be described as transformative.

'I had a job lined up but that fell through, so then I decided to start doing some personal development which changed my world, it turned it upside down and around and back again. It's the best thing I've ever done,' she says.

That life-altering decision has seen her set up her own business, a enterprise which sees her provide energy healing and beauty treatments for clients in Monterey, Sydney.

With 13 years experience as a beauty therapist and healer behind her, Emma opened The Beauty Sanctuary, a space where she strives to make her clients comfortable, whether they're there for an eyebrow or bikini wax or some reiki healing.

And although the long-term plan is to return to Wexford, Emma has found the Australian way of life, and the attitudes of its people, to be wholly refreshing.

'The way of life is just so different, in Ireland everything is familiar but the weather is terrible and the wages are low. The weather is fab here and the wages are much better. no-one interferes in your life here unlike in Ireland where people love to give their tuppence worth. and I find the people here are more open-minded.'

Emma will be returning home this year though, for a wedding, her own, she and Michael choosing Ireland as the place to tie the knot.

Wexford People