Leaving Ireland for a better life Down Under

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We all know somebody who has left Ireland for a better life in Australia, but what really attracts people to the land down under?

Despite a drop in emigration, 40,700 Irish people packed their bags and left in the 12 months up to April 2014, according to the latest Central Statistics Office figures, with 10,000 of them opting to go to Oz.

Mairead O’Connor, from Co Wexford, left Ireland in 2003 for a better life in Australia and hasn’t looked back since.

“I had travelled to Australia on holidays for three months in 1998, and fell in love with the place. I always knew I’d go back,” Mairead said.

For Mairead, the biggest factors which drew her back to Australia were the lifestyle and the weather.

“Obviously the weather plays a huge part to the lifestyle we live in Australia. Waking up early, being able to get out and about, plan days at the beach, BBQ’s, is really a great scenario,” she said, “I love being able to relax in the sun for an hour or two, after a long day at work. At weekends, it’s fun to jump in the car and head off somewhere – the country is endless, so there is just so much to do and see.”

“Life just seems easier here, and the job prospects are endless, if you are hard working, with a good attitude,” adds Mairead who now works as a Migration Officer in Sydney.

Sydney's Iconic Bondi beach in July.
Sydney’s Iconic Bondi beach in July (Australia’s Winter)

Mairead said the hardest part of moving to Australia was leaving her family.

“The distance from family and childhood friends is tough, and it is difficult missing out on various important events,” she says. “Goodbyes never get easier, but it’s where my life is for now, and you just have to learn to live with it.

“I think it can be worse for the family back home because they don’t see what is on the other side, and the reason you are there. My family haven’t been to Australia yet, so hopefully one day they’ll come over, and then they’ll get it too,” she says.

Despite being over 17,000 kilometres away from her hometown of Shielbaggan in County Wexford, Mairead never feels too far from home.

“There is a huge Irish and English community, so it’s nice to have that around you too. Your friends become your family in Oz,” she says.

“I never say never to [going] home, at the end of the day it’s where you were brought up and where all your family are. Nobody knows what the future holds, or what circumstances could change your plans, I just take it one day at a time. I’ll only make that decision when I have to.”

Mairead feels that the lack of employment opportunities in Ireland and better work prospects abroad are undeniable.

“The departure of young, educated and adaptable people is of course a huge loss to Ireland, but we do what they have to do,” she says. “On the upside, those who do leave can always return to Ireland, with new skills and experiences that they have developed from living overseas, which will benefit them and Ireland in the future.

“Something that is predominantly negative and pessimistic, can also be positive and optimistic. It depends on how we look at it. The glass is half full.”


For Gary Traynor from Dublin, his reason for leaving Ireland was a bit different to Mairead’s. He left because he simply felt he was getting nowhere in Ireland.

“I was in a job in Dunnes Stores where I was only getting 15 hours a week and I knew people on the dole coming out with more than me after tax and travel fare to work. So with no girlfriend or kids I thought I’d give Australia a go,” he says.

After only two weeks in the land down under Gary got a job in accounts for an engineering company, which he said was a big difference to working in Dunnes Stores.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I first got here. I was very lucky at the start here because I had my mate from home and his roommate, and then I met the rest of his friends over here and I became great friends with all them.”

Unlike many Irish that travel to Australia, who chose to live in big cities such as Perth or Sydney, Gary prefers life in the countryside.

“I couldn’t live in a city over here but I’m in the countryside now on a dairy farm. I could stay here but sponsorship got knocked back,” he says.

Despite having lived a better life in Australia for the past year and a half, Gary doesn’t plan to settle down there forever.

“I will always go home to Ireland one day. I will work and travel a bit more, but Ireland is home no matter what state the government has it in,” he says.

Flinders Street Train Station in Melbourne.
Flinders Street Train Station in Melbourne.

Some young Irish people are just leaving the Emerald Isle to try to experience life somewhere different after finishing college, just like Muireann Flannery and Kerry Dixon from Dublin, who are both moving to Sydney.

Kerry feels that she needs time to think about what she wants in life before rushing into a job, and that travelling for a while is her best option.

“I’ve finished college and I want a break before I start a career because there is too much pressure on graduates here but also not many options for them, so hopefully by the time I get back I’ll know what I want to do with my life instead of being forced into something,” she says.

“I worry that if I stay here I’ll end up doing something that I don’t particularly want to just because it’s a job and that doesn’t sit right with me,” Kerry adds.

A recent report from Trinity College Dublin’s Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), has found that women whose children have emigrated in recent years have had an increase of symptoms of depression and loneliness, and Kerry doesn’t think that her moving abroad will be easy for her own mother.

“I think my Mam will find it really hard, she’s already bought a puppy to replace me and has said that she doesn’t mind me leaving but if I didn’t come back it would kill her”, she said, “I’m the youngest child so I suppose they’ll all just be worried about me. I think they’ll all be fine once they’ve adjusted, but leaving just before Christmas probably won’t help.”

Sydney's Opera House.
Sydney’s Opera House.

Muireann Flannery has always wanted to see Australia since she was a child and she, like her friend Kerry, has just finished college and wants to travel before settling down into a career.

“I want to see if Australia will bring more opportunity for a better standard of living than Ireland is offering at the moment. So really I feel I need to leave to see if there’s anything better for me over there but I don’t necessarily have to go,” she says.

“I have been looking into college courses in Australia so that is something I’m considering doing if I like it over there.”

Like Kerry, Muireann feels it will be tough for her family when she goes, and her mother has told her she can only leave once she comes back.

“It’s very scary deciding to leave and move so far away,” Muireann says, “but there is so much more in the world to see than just what’s here in Ireland and I think there’s nothing worse than being so insular about the place you live and narrow minded to the rest of the world. Broaden your horizons and all that.”

Pictures by Leah Louise King.

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