Global Irish Forum Kick-Off

I had the pleasure of attending the kick off for the Global Irish civic forum on Wednesday night. The forum is a gathering of various government and social organisations and individuals whose collective goal is to help Irish diaspora globally.

The panel discussion was entitled Global Irish Communities, Connections and Conversations: The Undocumented Irish Perspective”, with a particular focus on the undocumented Irish in the US. Although I am not, thankfully, undocumented, it was interesting to hear the personal stories and contrasting experiences of that segment of the diaspora.

The panel discussion kicked off with Minister Joe McHugh reinforcing his commitment to maintaining the momentum that has built in supporting all diaspora and the cross-departmental appetite to engage in this conversation. The panel of five representatives then gave their perspective. Billy Lawless (Senator, Chicago) spoke about the goodwill that exists in the U.S. and advised the importance of enhancing personal relationships. This was interesting for me given the clamour for Enda Kenny to shun the Patrick’s Day visit. There is a balance to be struck between expressing your position strongly and respecting long term relationships.

Celine Kennelly (Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, San Fran) spoke of how important it is to ensure the undocumented do not feel forgotten. This is one of the reasons I write and publish this. In common with us returning emigrants, she also stressed the need to make it as easy as possible for emigrants to return home. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way and I hope the forum comes up with pragmatic solutions to problems diaspora everywhere have in common.

Michael McMahon (Families of the undocumented in America) struck a chord with me. In my Irish times series I write about the challenges posed as a returning emigrant. But at least I had the choice to return. I became more grateful during the few minutes he spoke. Michael’s son has not been back to Ireland for 17 years. I count my blessings that I could return whenever I wanted during a similar time period. This is a deprivation of freedom I had not considered. The undocumented do not seem to officially belong anywhere. I have the dilemma of belonging to two places and having to choose one. Thankfully the government is interested and actively engaged. The message from Michael is that there are fifty thousand people stranded – and time is running out for them to see family who are aging. My gratitude for feeling like I belong and for freedom of choice is renewed.

Ronnie Miller (Irish International Immigrant Center, Boston), spoke of the anxiety and inaccurate information in the community. The countering need then is to provide a calm and accurate source of information and support. People have taken up Irish classes in great numbers recently. It is indicative of a need for community and belonging in the increasingly insecure environment.

What followed was indicative of some of the challenges and opportunities in what is a complex area.

Michael Lonergan (Embassy of Ireland, US) provided an insight into the current political environment, and the balancing act of continuously campaigning versus sounding like a broken record. Relentlessness – and expectations – in the face of current opposition needs to be carefully managed.

There followed discussion about the ‘waiver option’ (which I confess to not being familiar with). The conclusion reached after considerable back and forth among various parties in the room is that waivers are assessed on a case-by-case basis and applicants must leave during the assessment. This poses risk for any undocumented individual. This fact seemed to be somewhat new information to some present. As the discussion concluded I asked myself a couple of questions.

  1. What is the source of truth for such questions? Who distributes the official reliable information? As an emigrant, where do I go for the official word? Make it easy for me.
  2. How is a forum such as this now communicating – in real-time this important information? Can this be on Twitter from an official source almost immediately?

There is unbelievably hard work done by multiple enterprises, private, social and government – something all should be proud of. It would be great to see conclusions and actions being disseminated to the wider diaspora in a calm accurate – and timely – manner.

It’s also important for government and all enterprise to hear the personal people stories – as it is for the people to hear accurate information. Give them information and empower them to decide what to do. For example, discounting waivers on the basis of risk underestimates people’s ability to make a personal informed decision. Previous cases should be recorded centrally and I – as an emigrant – should be able to decide what risks I wish to take. Risk is not, after all, something an emigrant is unfamiliar with.

Hopefully the two days will address this need amongst others. For my part I will suggest my ideas to the forum. I hope by writing this, you know there are people who care for your wellbeing working very hard to help you. You are not forgotten. Stay positive and grab the hands that reach out to you.

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Gratitudes for 2016

They say all business is personal. LinkedIn is a tool for networking, for making connections. Real, worthwhile relationships – including business ones – are made between humans. And our LinkedIn profile is just the tip of our human iceberg.


“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward.

So here is some of my iceberg of gratitude for 2016.

I sit in the ‘sun’ room (I use that term loosely), two days into 2017. A time for reflection on the year that has been. Last January, I wrote a letter to myself from 2016 promising challenge that would carve our characters. She delivered in spades. I am proud of all of us. But mostly grateful. It’s an appropriate time to reflect on the challenges, how we overcame them and to express my gratitude to the people who have inspired me to be better than I thought I could.

  • To Anne-Marie – for being you. Unflappable, the personification of love. Moving a family to another country has no chance if you’re not a team. We still have a chance. If you are lucky enough to know someone who supports and loves you unconditionally, then treasure every one – wherever they are. Invest in them.

There are spaces in our fingers so that another persons’ can fit between them.

  • To our children for reminding me you can only be happy right now – not in the past nor in the future. As we continue to re-adjust to Ireland, it is simple and reassuring to know that the only time to be happy is this moment. To Ava, for always caring for your siblings and cousins. To Erin for reminding us to look after the less fortunate – at a time which, although beautiful, we found a little excessive. To JJ, for reminding me about jigsaws and not caring what you look like when you dance.
  • To my folks for, well, I don’t think we have time do we? I realise now the energy needed to be a good parent – passing on lessons and values to help your children. Without your character I wouldn’t be here. I can never say it enough – I love you. To my siblings and relatives, thanks for keeping the rope turning while we were away. (Let’s skip!)
  • To my old pal Andre, for making it seem like we never emigrated, for reassuring us that we’re in the right place and that it’s OK to feel unsettled. Better than knowledge, you have wisdom. To my old Sydney friend, Ken for the “hug that will last a lifetime” and for reminding me to always be positive and grateful.
  • To Australia, for being a great place to become yourself, make lifelong friends and take opportunities aplenty to work, learn and grow. I will always love you but I need to look forward now.
  • To Ireland and her people, for welcoming us with open arms – mostly. And for providing challenges we anticipated and some we didn’t. Our characters are being carved.
  • To Ciara at the Irish Times, for coffee – and the opportunity for myself and other emigrants to travel together and to share our stories along the way. This world needs more feeling, stories and real connection.
  • To the coaches at Performance Therapy Ireland and to Sarah M. for helping me replace some of my Australian lifestyle habits with new ones – and teaching me to get comfortable with uncomfortable.
  • To Ergo Services, Fingal LEO and Fáilte Ireland for re-introducing me to education, work and contribution in Ireland – so important for well-being and security. Welcome Ireland indeed!
  • To the people I worked with or met who inspired me this year – you know who you are Brenda, Ian, Damien, Eamonn, Tony, Andy, Bob.
  • To Zeminar, for allowing me to play a tiny part contributing to the wellbeing of Irish people. It helps to be part of something bigger, to get some perspective and remind me how lucky I am.
  • To the Wild Geese of Malahide – that hardy group of ocean swimmers at Low Rock. For living on the sunny side with the right attitude in the face of – frankly – terrible swimming weather!
  • To the group who, in January, took the initiative to invest in themselves and Kickstart the year in fine style, thank you. You don’t realise what you’ve started.

2016 was a tough year but one to be proud of. Perhaps they go hand-in-hand. A final thanks to my fellow life navigators from all parts of the world who shared your feelings and experiences. I tried to reply personally mostly or through my articles. It is good to know that, while we all struggle on our climbs, we can see fellow climbers all around. As my Dad often says ‘no point in reaching the top, if you’ve nobody to enjoy the view with.

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The Sunny Side

Fingers of GodI’ve a new policy since I returned to Ireland. “When the sun’s out, I’m out”.

There will be plenty of rainy days when I’ll be stuck inside.

It could be a metaphor for living. Our brief starburst of life on this planet is like a break in the clouds. We should make the most if it. Being brave does not come naturally to me nor to most of us. Putting ourselves out there to fail. Being vulnerable. We unlearn it as we become more self-aware.  But it’s a promise I made to myself at the start of this year – and a daily challenge to keep it. In Australia, being in the sun puts you at risk of being burned. But you go out anyway. You take precautions and go because it’s a risk worth taking. Being vulnerable has immense rewards. The alternative is staying in – and that’s no fun. In this life, don’t stay in.

Going out is risky – but worth it

I got a shot of nostalgia when the first knock on our front door the day after moving to Ireland was a neighbour’s child asking could our girls come out to play. Remember that? We should all get out to play more. Take chances. Make connections. Risk something. Fall and hurt ourselves. Learn. Lose track of time. Live in the moment. Grow. Make lifelong friends. Have fleeting moments. Break rules. Have fun. Experience joy, pain, fear and love. But look forward to going out every day regardless. Go back to childhood.

When you’re out, seek the sunny side. I was waiting to meet a friend for coffee one of my first days back. The sun was shining across the road from the cafe. I walked across and sat in the sun to wait. Some tourists stopped to take pictures of the building behind me. Oscar Wilde’s birthplace. It’s amazing what you might miss if you don’t seek the sun over the shade.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” ― Oscar Wilde

We always have a choice

I sometimes picture myself as a Life Navigator – but an amateur one. I have a MAP but no path I take is completely sunny. Each has sunny and dark sides. We get pushed from one to the other. But when we have a choice, we should choose the sun. On the sunny side, we will find vulnerability, risk, fun, tolerance, optimism, hope, connection, love, contribution and being. It’s only across the road or outside that door.

Every single day you wake, you get to choose. Decide you’re sad and your God will give you plenty of reasons to justify it. Or decide to be happy and your God will give you the same number of reasons to justify that.

Ironically – given I moved from Australia to Ireland – I choose the sun.

So when you can see the light through the clouds – the fingers of God – seek the sunny side. I’ll see you there.

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One Life. Live It.

noregretsBLLife is too short. It’s an expression we hear often. It hit home this week. The passing of Liz, my wife’s mother, stole – from Liz herself, from Anne-Marie, from our kids and from all of her loved one – years of happiness.

Shattered dreams. What should have been a great summer – a great year – stained forever. Lives changed irrevocably. Those words – what should have been – but wasn’t. It’s a lesson I don’t want to forget. You cannot bank the future – only the present moment. We all pass away at some stage. And when Liz passed, I’m sure it was with memories banked during her time with all of us – and not with thoughts of what might have been.

When we pass from this physical life, none of us wants to have regrets.

Here are 12 things I won’t regret…

  1. Being enough – being happy with who I am
  2. Showing up and living in the moment
  3. Having fun along the way
  4. Loving my family enough
  5. Valuing my friendships
  6. Doing things that mean something to me and others
  7. Being over doing
  8. Contributing to the people and the world around me
  9. Being adventurous, trying new things and places
  10. Being curious to always learn
  11. Looking after myself – mind, body and soul
  12. Deciding what matters and discarding the rest

I remember these using the acronym MARCH – Meaning, Awe, Relationships, Contribution and Health. In memory of Liz, I will march forward – one foot in front of the other – banking the memories until the Point of No Regrets.

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The Decision


The logic and understanding of the personality originate in the mind. They are products of the intellect. The higher order of logic and understanding capable of reflecting the soul comes from the heart. The creation of this higher order of logic therefore requires close attention to feelings – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul.

Cognitive Bias Alert!

There is a phenomenon known as Cognitive Bias whereby, after we make a decision, we actively seek things that affirm it. We also avoid those that do not support it. The alternative is to face the dissonance of being wrong. This entire blog may be biased by this phenomenon.

The Reaction

The typical conversation when telling someone we were returning to Ireland went like this.

We’ve decided to go back to Ireland for good.


…followed by silence and a sympathetic looks as if someone has passed away.

So what made you decide that?

…followed by some guesses, either from the other person or me. We Irish can fill a silence.

Family? Kids?

I agree and add ‘It’s a gut decision. It’s just time.’

Emigrants want to understand because they empathise and are curious. Most others seek an explanation. And nobody can argue with a gut decision, even those
seeking logic. Because the truth is, the answer is neither short nor simple.

That Question

And I wonder about the question “What made you decide?” That is often the exact wording. Were we forced? Did the decision make us or did we make the decision? Does it even matter?

I prefer to believe we made the decision – just like changing job or moving house. This allows me to feel more in control. Decisions involving selection are typically based on logical pros and cons, gathered at a single point in time, assessed and decided. But this decision was different. We cannot even pinpoint the exact times the decision process started and ended. Having gone back over it with Anne-Marie – to present an accurate picture for this article – the decision seems to have emerged to us over time. In hindsight, an inexorable series of events, leading to here.

The Facts

Here is what we do agree on – in rough chronological order. Some points are brief because elaboration would be a separate article in itself – more suited to a time when I am ready.

  • Early 2000: We emigrate, for a year initially. From that moment – and I suspect this true of all emigrants – we develop a deep-rooted feeling that stays with us every day. Let’s call it the Emigrants Ache. I have yet to figure out what it is. Guilt? Homesickness? An absence of belonging? Maybe a combination of all three. Over time, I might understand myself enough to know what causes it. I hope that, what we lose by leaving Australia, is replaceable. What we lost leaving Ireland was not. I hope Emigrants Ache disappears. How ironic to have options creating a yearning that can never be satisfied. Once we embrace our new life, we suppress the Ache and push on. It’s easier when the sun shines. The Ache ebbs and flows but never disappears. Time does not heal it.
  • 2008: We start a family. Our Perspective changes.
  • 2010: We buy a dream house and make it a home. We think we will be there for a lifetime. We are settled. Possibly related, we live opposite a nursing home. Occasionally, rarely but again possibly significantly – I consider the rest of my life in Australia. Somewhat morbidly, I find myself considering dying in Australia. I cannot get my head around it. Despite beautiful family and friends in Sydney, it does not sit well.
  • Anne-Marie’s father, Oliver (a model human being to whom endless words would not do justice), falls sick. We think he will recover. I suggest London to be closer to family and as an adventure. We don’t pursue that option, (we think) due to logistics and timings that don’t line up. Perhaps events overtake us.
  • Our children begin to correct our diction. They are Australian.
  • Dec 26, 2013: Oliver passes away. Anne-Marie is relatively fortunate to spend quality time with Oliver prior to his passing. We participate in the funeral over Skype.
  • Early 2014: Anne-Marie has a conversation with an Italian colleague who, after hearing we lived in Sydney with three kids and most family in Ireland, looks at her deadpan and asks “what are you doing here?” It isn’t just the words. It is the look on her face. Anne-Marie must feel something deep down for it to impact her this way. She mulls over it awhile.
  • Later in 2014: Anne-Marie suggests to me that Ireland is a serious option. But – and I love her for this – she never subsequently pursues it. This is a decision both of us will make together.
  • Early 2015, we are discussing returning fairly seriously. We have flights booked for a holiday in mid-2015. I am doing what I do best – working through all the options, analysing the pros and cons. Sell up and go? Sell up and use the holiday to investigate? I chat with a friend. He tells me to “sit on it for a few months. The decision will make itself”. So we do. Kind of!
  • August 2015: Our holiday in Ireland is lovely, as always. Family, friends, weddings, sentimentality, emotion. Most of our life decisions are made in the car on the way to kid-free weddings – we can hear ourselves think. On the return journey we chat. I often play the role of facilitator in work but this time Anne-Marie takes it on. She listens and helps me decide. Decision made.

The Recurring Questions

Here are the three questions that recur in my mind at the exact time the decision becomes clear. The answer is obvious with the advantage of hindsight.

If we don’t return to Ireland, will we regret it in later life? A resounding Yes! The Ache had not left us over sixteen years and I don’t believe would have.

Can we make it work? Sure, why not. We’ve spent 16 years figuring things out ourselves. We can do this. But it’s not a guarantee (Mam!).

What if it doesn’t work? Then at least we tried. We grasped the nettle. We lived. We learned and we will deal with it. We will have no regrets. Just as we don’t regret our Australian chapter. Leaving is not a failure.

Internal Overcomes External

In the end, there was no choice. The answer became obvious. We just spent time figuring out the right questions to ask ourselves. During the entire process, we weighed up external factors including weather, jobs, finances and education. But in truth they were only relevant insofar as they either enable or prevent our ability to choose. The external factors allowed us to choose. But they were also irrelevant to the choice itself. They became background noise to the internal voice guiding us.
The final ingredient enabling the choice was our faith in one another to figure things out. And everyone has that right?

Final Thoughts

I am grateful every day for having the choice we had in a world where people flee countries just to survive. It may seem that the decision was made for us because it was neither intellect nor our logic that determined it. But I believe it’s the opposite. We dived deep inside of ourselves to reach it. It was an intuitive leap of faith. I wouldn’t say it was effortless – but it was inexorable. We listened, we took time and it came to us. That’s how intuition works.
Ultimately we listen to our lives, to our innate wisdom and to our heart. I trust the decisions of my heart more than those of my head. I have rarely regretted decisions of my heart. Maybe it’s because, our intellect evolved by design to survive, but our heart has always been about living and loving. Both work in tandem. We made this decision with our heart. Then we planned and executed the shit out of it using our head.

Coming soon… some more post-decision justification, reactions and conversations we had with expats, as well as the first weeks settling in.

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A New Dawn in Ireland


Here begins our next epic. After 16 (one six) years in Sydney we have returned to our third mother, Ireland.

Here also begins a journal to accompany the experience. I am writing it for two reasons. The first is for those people, particularly Irish emigrants, who expressed surprise but also a deep curiosity about our decision to return home after so long, and the reasons behind it.

The second is selfish. I think this next stage of living – for that is what this really is, grasping the nettle – will bring us joy and challenge in equal measure. And I am an equal mix of excitement and fear. So, writing is therapy. By writing, I am forced to express my current fears and face them. I will also, I hope, consider the challenges ahead – and be more equipped to deal with them. My wife and kids will contribute when they want to – and we hope this will being us all closer and enable us together to embrace an opportunity that an unfortunate many don’t get to experience. We have chosen the country we want to live in. Every day I am grateful for that.

So how will this blog work? The frequency will be erratic, with periods of intense activity and then total radio silence, a fitting parallel to the experience itself. I expect the tone will be unpredictable, with ups and downs along the way. But the writing will be as honest as I can make it.

For those seeking an answer, I don’t expect it will provide one. But maybe it will prompt the right questions. For those expecting a list of pros and cons, I don’t expect it will provide that either. I’m sure comparisons with our old home will naturally emerge. But this above all is intended to be our story, a written record of our real experience and some of the feelings as we live through them.

Feel free to ask questions or contribute in any way as it will help us both! See you next time when I will write more about The Decision.

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