I CAN still see them now today, as clearly as back then… her face soaked in tears, as she pressed her cheek against the tiny baby, cradling her, breathing in her newborn baby scent, one last cuddle before we all said goodbye. And then she whispered; ‘I won’t get to see you grow up’ - and my heart felt like it dropped to the floor, weighed down by concrete blocks. This was a new kind of sadness I hadn’t been familiar with… one of emigration.
It was early 2012 and our youngest was just a few weeks old - my husband’s only sibling, my child’s only auntie back then, along with her family, her partner and their one year old, were moving to Australia, more than 10,000 miles away on the other side of the world.
As we drove off and I glanced behind, there she stood in her doorway, the pain of her leaving etched all over her face. I hated this country… for the first time since the Celtic Tiger crash, I really, really hated this country. Their departure was the final nail in the coffin. It had robbed us of family, of friendship, of love… of togetherness. After all we may have had less in the materialistic sense, in our pay cheques, in our bank accounts, but we always had each other right? No, we didn’t even have that anymore.
She worked in the Irish health system, as a midwife, he was an engineer, both qualified. As unemployment skyrocketed to 323,000 in 2012, and the construction industry employment fell from 273,000 to 100,000, they were just one family in a sea, who became casualties. They faced the option of raising their child on a single income, in the country’s capital, or they hoped for a better life abroad… They were not alone. A total of 358,000 people left Ireland between 2008 to 2012, including 50,000 along in 2012. I’m sure the sadness we felt that day of their leaving, was mirrored in each of those 358,000 families the length and breadth of Ireland.
The day we said goodbye was the hardest day for us. Yes there were moments we really missed them, over the days, the months, the years ahead, when milestones were missed - empty seats at birthday parties, newborn babies that we’d never even met. Weeks between emails and Facetimes and Skype chats became months… time flew by and we got used to the new normal.
We were lucky there were much joyful reunions for two family weddings (theirs and ours!) etc, but that time was never enough - a few days here, a few days there over the past five years, it didn’t fill the dearth of memories that could have been made.
But now they are coming home … to Ireland of 2017. The tears came quick and fast again when were heard the news, we’d have them back, just a two and a half hour drive up the road, as opposed to a 20 hour flight.
We’d finally get to meet their third born child, who will be almost 10 months old, when they land back on Irish soil. Our children and theirs will get to finally build a proper relationship as cousins - just like we did when we were growing up.
We are excited, as they are, but also fearful, after all what are they coming home to?
The health system is crying out for workers and there are now strong career prospects once more in the engineering field. So you’d hope everything will be rosy, right? Unemployment was down to 6.6 percent in February.
When I mention to others they are coming back home, they cry, 'but why?' as if Australia is some kind of paradise and Ireland is hell on earth. "What about the weather, the washing, the outdoor lifestyle…they cry?" They managed to spend the first 30 plus years of their lives dealing with all the above, so hopefully they’ll adjust once more.
If you spend five years in ‘paradise’ and the emerald isle is still calling you back, if that ache in your heart for home, for family, for what you know, …. then it’s a cry that you can’t simply ignore.
Last Friday, St Patrick's Day, on both sides of the world, albeit at slightly different time zones, we painted shamrocks on our children’s cheeks, dressed them in all things green, celebrated all things Irish… maybe just maybe I can fall in love again with this country of ours and 2017 could be the year.