The Irish Abroad was set up in the summer of 2020 as a voice for the Irish diaspora. Within its first year we have grown to a community of over 60,000 people. We’ve had stories from Sydney to London, Paris to New York and Belfast to Kerry. Connecting stories of life abroad has helped so many who have felt isolated this past year to remember that they are not alone. Although we may not be at home, we can still support each other and share our experiences as an international community.
The summer of 2020 was like no other, and one we will never forget. Although, we undoubtedly wish to. The world was in a state of lockdown and living abroad suddenly felt more isolating than ever before. There were no flights home, no way back to see the family and no prospect of it anytime soon. It was during this period that I began to take a deeper interest in the history of being Irish abroad. Irish history and mythology are intrinsically linked to stories of exodus and exile. From Colmcille’s departure from Ireland in the sixth century through the Celtic sagas of the early Middle Ages, the Flight of the Earls and the Wild Geese of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the great migrations after the Famine in the nineteenth. The notion of leaving, as Patrick Ward points out, “has deep roots in the Irish psyche.” It’s part of who we are.
Generations of Irish people have travelled to the four corners of the Earth in search of a new life. Often driven by necessity and unfortunate circumstance through no fault of their own. The legacy of these generations is the influence of Irish culture around the world. For such a tiny country sitting alone on the edge of the Wild Atlantic our impact can’t be denied. Ignorance allows people to remark on our ‘drinking culture’ as our only export, but Irish influence runs much deeper than that. From literary giants to political icons, Irish influence is undoubtable and truly remarkable.
Being Irish abroad wasn’t always as easy as it is now. Generations of people have suffered sustained discrimination and hardship in their adopted countries. Elements of that discrimination have been allowed to endure in the form of ‘jokes’, but they should not be accepted as so. Ignorance is difficult to cure but as the old saying goes, a mans mouth often breaks his nose. Despite the barriers, communities survived, endured and rose to prominence. From the bottom rung of the social ladder to the White House in the case of John F. Kennedy. It is that resilience and will to survive which has shaped the psyche of modern Irish expats. When anybody asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.
Learning the history of the Irish Diaspora got me thinking. Had I any right complaining about my circumstances during lockdown? I mean, I could still phone home as often as I wanted, zoom call, skype or even send twenty letters a day if my heart desired. In the modern world we are connected like never before, but that connectivity has weakened our resolve to endure hardship. Modern technology means that being a thousand miles away from home can seem no distance at all. Essentially, we’ve become rather spoiled. I wasn’t going to get home in person, which was upsetting, but at least I could still talk to loved ones. For bygone generations, emigrating to a foreign country meant the end of relationships as you knew them. There was almost certainty that you would never again step foot inside your family home or see your parents face. That was suffering on a whole other level. Staying in a lovely warm flat with an I-phone, I-pad and a laptop. Not so much!
Reading stories from the past made me hungry to learn about the present. I knew that there were thousands of people around the world in the same position as me. Everyone who is living abroad has a story to tell of how they ended up there. What drove them to start again? Some are for happy reasons, and many are not. This is the nature of emigration. Setting up The Irish Abroad website has allowed me to share my story with so many people, but it has also allowed so many others to share theirs. The reaction has been unbelievable. We currently have sixty thousand followers and reach an average of seven hundred and fifty thousand people a week, across all platforms. The Irish Abroad is a platform for Irish culture, giving a voice to the Irish Diaspora in these bizarre times. If you would like to share your story with us, then please contact us at email@example.com , or message us on Facebook at The Irish Abroad…
Slán go fóill.