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Céad míle slán: An Irish emigrant’s tale of one hundred thousand goodbyes

Emigration stings you with complex emotions. You’re devastated at leaving family behind yet excited for the opportunities and adventures that await

In no other public place are as many emotions on show as in airports. Arrivals halls are filled with joy while departure gates are steeped in sadness.

I felt some of that sadness at Dublin Airport recently after saying a piercing goodbye to my parents as I departed for Australia again.

Like many Irish people who live abroad, I had the good fortune to return to Ireland to celebrate Christmas for the first time in many years. Queensland’s international borders were still closed at this time last year, so it was almost surreal to be back home from Brisbane with my family and friends for the 2022 festive season.

After I left my parents, unsure of when we’d be reunited again, I posted a tweet with a rain-soaked image of an Aer Lingus plane. It clearly resonated, as it was retweeted many times. It both consoled and saddened me that thousands of other Irish people were going through the same thing.


Few experiences are as all-encompassing and complex as that of saying goodbye to loved ones for a life abroad. This is true not only for the person leaving but also for those remaining behind.

Emigration stings you with complex emotions. You’re devastated at leaving family behind yet excited for the opportunities and adventures that await. It has also become an ambiguous sort of loss, because you’re separated from loved ones, and physically absent from their lives, yet remain in contact because of the many communication tools we have now.

Distance is for the brave. Living abroad means forsaking a lot of time with your loved ones in return for special snippets together. The loss experienced through emigration occurs on multiple levels. You lose moments, miss out on family events and are absent from the lives of people you love on a daily basis. Yet I find that is seldom acknowledged.

Airports embody very confusing losses. They are spaces filled with sorrow, fear, loneliness, heartbreak and incredibly tender moments. In typical Irish fashion, many of us tend to avoid talking about the goodbye and pretend that it is not happening until the final moment.

For those of us living in the regions – I’m from Tralee, in Co Kerry – the long drive to Dublin Airport can be one of the most gut-wrenching moments of the trip home. Unless you have had the misfortune of experiencing it, it is hard to describe the feelings of “waiting for the goodbye”. Goodbyes are hard, and as an emigrant you can feel as if you’re constantly saying goodbye to someone or something you love.

Airport goodbyes teach us that by letting go, we are able to hold on. You can travel the world, but Ireland will always be home.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email with a little information about you and what you do

Nicola Holly is galleries manager for Queensland College of Art at Griffith University in Brisbane