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Tuesday 21 August 2018

I swapped New York for Dublin -- and I'm not going back...

AS THOUSANDS head to the US to flee the recession, Big Apple native Sue Conley has opted to stay on in Dublin after 13 years

I recently emigrated: from Dollymount to Dun Laoghaire. It was so stressful and exhausting, you'd think I was moving halfway round the world. I couldn't believe how much stuff I had accumulated over the past 13½ years, I who had landed on these shores in 1998 with three bags (okay, they were large bags) and a notion of hanging around for a year or so.

More than a decade and one dead tiger later, I'm still here, and more than one person has asked me: if I was going to move, why didn't I move all the way?

All the way home, that is. Home as in the States, as in 'family of origin' home. Home as in the east coast of the States, which means only one of two things to people, and in my case is New York City (the other thing is Boston).

Employment

Even in the parlous state the entire world finds itself in, my family homeplace is still the land of the free, home of employment. The Irish are still flocking there in droves. According to a recent article in the New York Post, hundreds of emigrants are arriving daily, trading the Emerald Isle for the Isle of Manhattan.

'Hundreds' doesn't sound like all that much, but given that the population of this entire island is less than half of that entire island, that number gains significance and, as ever, the usual poignancy.

In a recent phone call to my folks, there was poignancy there as well: when was I coming home, my mother all but asked straight out, in response to the news that I was moving house yet again.

"Weren't things terrible in Europe?" she ventured, tentatively. Well, not that things weren't terrible everywhere, she continued, but in Europe, especially?

Holiday

I guess so, I replied, and grumbled a little about who knows what, annoyed as usual that my family seem to think I'm on an extended holiday or something -- like I don't live here. I do live here, and I must be stubborn as muck, because I'm staying.

In so many ways, it is much easier for the latest wave of Irish emigrants to kick arse in NYC than it would be for me.

Not like I don't have my family there, a beloved clutch of friends whom I still miss almost daily, and a fairly robust series of old work connections, but instead of feeling excited, instead of feeling that rush of imminent rejuvenation and hope, I feel a little tired.

I've been there, done that. I could easily let myself get swept up in the hustle and bustle, and every time I visit, I feel a bit of a grá for the old life. But that's what it is for me: the old life, and I just can't stick the notion of going back to it.

As well, I have no illusions about the Big Apple or anywhere else in the States, and feel the lack of rose-tinted glasses quite strongly.

Frankly, the Irish are as sentimental about America as the Irish Americans are about the auld sod.

So, I wonder, is it sentiment keeping me here? My father's mother, Mary McMahon Conley, was from Co Limerick, from the city itself, and it wasn't until I began to investigate my ancestry that I learned anything about her.

Affection

She died when I was 15, and hadn't been the most affectionate of grandmothers at any stage. But as I climbed our family tree, with only dates to guide me (she hadn't been especially nice to my dad, either, and he had no stories from her to pass on) I discovered that Mary hadn't really had much of a chance.

Her mother Honora passed when Mary was four, and James, her father, died when she was barely out of her teens.

With her older sister Anne, she emigrated to New York at the age of 17 -- at least, that's when she got her passport, and why else would she have gone to the trouble?

Since fate is a funny old b**tard, it's down to her that I have my Irish passport, which makes me 'Irish', which makes it effortless for me to stay here.

In many ways, I feel like I'm healing a family wound, the wound created by having no choice but to leave home, and to never return. As I roamed around the web, looking to see where all the Irish are going these days, it is a default Google option to link directly to various jobs sites, and information about jobs fairs to work overseas.

Since the 21st-century Irish emigrant is better educated than his or her grandfather or grandmother, there seem to be a lot of choices for everyone, except the one where you get to stay home.

I, too, have choices, and one of the more significant ones I've made in the last while was to leave home myself. I think perhaps, instead of treating this period of time like it was a tragedy, we might reframe it as an opportunity for our young ones to go abroad with their skills, and not only support themselves, but also share their gifts with the world.

Movie

Less opera, more road movie, starring ourselves and the big wide world.

Me, I am here, but if I was to move on, it wouldn't be back, it would be forward.

Moving halfway round the world sounds even more exhausting than moving from northside to southside, but I've never been to Australia or New Zealand, and I hear they have loads of sunshine.

As long as they have horses (they do, I just checked), then, well, anything is possible ...

Susan's novels -- Drama Queen and The Fidelity Project -- are available on digital readers (and on paper, too).

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