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Brianna Parkins: I’m leaving Ireland. I don’t have the energy for life here

This country teased a lightness out of me. But so many people leaving Ireland for Australia is down to more than sunshine

Brianna Parkins: 'A dream opportunity has come up in Australia so that’s me away now.' Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

I am leaving Ireland. I don’t know how sad I am entitled to feel, given tens of thousands of Irish people emigrate to Australia every year and none of them will have their parents to welcome them at the airport. This also means they do not have to hear complaints from their mother about the price of parking and how much luggage they brought back. “Do you even use all this stuff?” she will say about your two suitcases containing five years of life abroad, with the wisdom of a woman whose good room is stuffed entirely with decorative miniature tea sets.

If there is a limit of grief I can feel about leaving Ireland I plan on using every cubic centimetre of it. If it was a carry-on Ryanair bag limit I would be wearing three layers of lament and remorse under my coat. I have been here too long. The dry, cruel sense of Australian pragmatism I arrived with has rotted away and good old-fashioned Irish sentimentality has grown over it.

My last few walks through Dublin have made me grateful that oversized footballers’ WAG sunglasses are back in fashion. The smell of fish from the Moore Street markets makes me tear up and I say my silent goodbyes to the spot my great-granny and granny worked at their stall. Farewell to the Liberties, where six generations of my family lived before me, even though they would have hated me and my tech-worker boyfriend for pushing up the price of rent.

I’ve never had to pretend to understand or enjoy James Joyce, which is one of the few privileges in life I enjoy, being working-class.

From the Georgian mansions, to the libraries, the pubs, the parks, the theatres and the laneways that stink of urine. I will miss every inch of this city. Even the sight of one of the seagulls ripping into a garbage bag on the street, littering the cobblestones with used sanitary napkins and crisp packets, makes me weepy. Goodbye you big feral bastards. I will miss you striking fear into the hearts of sandwich-eating lunchtime office workers.


I’ve never had to pretend to understand or enjoy James Joyce, which is one of the few privileges in life I enjoy, being working-class. But thanks to the canvas tote bags we flog to American tourists I know his quote about dying and Dublin being written in his heart. He never shut up about the city, despite exiling himself from it for the last few decades of his life. I hadn’t paid much attention to it until now. The man had a thing for Dublin and also, according to his private letters, farts. I’m not one to kink-shame so I didn’t judge him for his enduring love of a place with constant grey skies and limited opportunities.

But this city, this country gets under your skin, and you’re never the same again. It’s not the buildings or green fields or stone walls. Ireland is its people. It’s the “fair plays” and “mind yourself nows”. It’s being able to leave work to attend a funeral without putting in a form, needing only the knowing, understanding nod of a boss on your way out. It’s a society guided by and founded on the invisible but omnipresent rule of soundness. It’s the “ah here” discretion authority holders exercise to help you out of a tight spot.

Ireland teased a lightness and tenderness out of me. I had grown up in a place that required hardness. There was no room for giddiness or curiosity. This country cracked me wide open. Until I was one of the eejits laughing and joining in when a pack of strangers outside a pub had found a long piece of wire and started playing a communal game of jump rope. This would never have happened in Sydney for all our sun and avocado brunches.

So why leave? Because I am just very tired. Life in Ireland has become a scrabble I don’t have the energy for any more. I have never been short on work but the offers coming in are the financial equivalent of a sh*t sandwich on stale bread. I’m finding more and more that journalism here is treated as an expensive hobby rather than a career people need to fund their lives. Then a dream opportunity at home came up so that’s me away now. (I will continue to write my Irish Times column.)

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Claims that people move to Australia just for the sunshine and the beach are convenient misrepresentations. It’s the access to healthcare, it’s the 14 per cent pension I’ll be paid on top of my salary and the lower taxes. It’s the hope that we can afford a house and entertain the idea of starting a family, maybe, one day. The dream of getting ahead lives on.

There’s also the small matter of being home to look after my family, who are still grieving the loss of my nephew. And spending time with my grandfather, who has been telling me to come home, in an accent still strong enough to believe he just stepped out of the Liberty Bell, “because this is the last Christmas” – for the past five years. On Paddy’s Day we will sit in his livingroom, drink whiskey, listen to the Dubliners and drone on with rose-tinted glasses about a country and its people we love but had to leave behind.