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Leaving Ireland for lonely London is not as glamorous as it seems


by Jennifer Purcell
08th Sep 2018
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This time 12 months ago, I had a media degree in one hand, all my belongings in another and took a gamble accepting a one-year contract on a flat in London, without having secured a job.

The last piece I penned before leaving weighed up the pros and cons of Dublin vs. London, and the cost of living in each – it helped decide my choice that London was worth the risk. The most enticing thing about a life in the UK? More job opportunities compared to Ireland. Full-time media jobs are scarce across Ireland, with most of the bigger companies based in Dublin. Luckily, I found my niche here in Marketing and Communications and over the past year have been blessed to work with some of the most well-known faces across the UK and Ireland.

The boom is back

New figures released from the CSO last week show the number of people returning to live in Ireland has overtaken those emigrating for the first time in 10 years. Despite the economy ‘booming’ again, and an overall higher employment rate, there are thousands of people, just like me, who feel that it is not yet time to return home. I’m hoping to build my career here in London, work my way up the ranks until I feel comfortable enough to secure a sustainable income when I return home. My plan was to save enough to support myself when I do decide to return.

I came to London with hopes and dreams, as cliché as it sounds. I envisioned the buzz of London’s city life, the bustling streets and nightlife, the office views of London’s landmarks and the endless opportunities to progress. But reality hit me fast when I realised the dream is not always as it seems.

Battling loneliness

London is not only an extremely expensive city, it’s incredibly lonely. The isolation in such a big city is crippling. I have no friends here in London. I have my partner and my housemates, but outside that, I’m alone. I commute daily across one of the most populated cities in the world, travelling 40 minutes door to door without so much as a smile. Without a ‘good morning’. Without a friendly face. And that’s the difference between here and Ireland… it feels almost cold.

We follow in uniform the same routine day in and day out. Standing at the exact same spot each morning at 8.30am to avoid the crush onto the tube – knowing that there’s one again in two minutes but you’ve become so caught up in the hurry of it all, the 24/7 rush hour. A sense of warmth replaces that when I’m greeted with a céad míle fáilte each morning, surrounded by the many Irish people I work with. I feel comfort knowing that I have a home away from home, a sense of familiarity in such an isolated city.

The Irish in London tend to stick together. Despite each of us having our own reasons for leaving in search of a better life, we cannot help but reach out for that sense of community, of familiarity among ‘our own’.

Returning to a ‘New Ireland’

I see a new Ireland emerging and I am so proud that it is my home. It will always be my home. I felt compelled to be part of the #hometovote movement in the repeal the 8th abortion referendum, among thousands of others who travelled from across the globe home to vote for their future. I am proud to represent my country in my work, to be part of a team who bring the Irish communities across London together. I constantly remind myself that I should be so grateful for the opportunities I have been given, that I should be thankful that I have an incredible job, a roof over my head and to be conscious that I am spending the best years of my life in one of the greatest cities in the world.

But I cannot help that feeling of homesickness. Although I almost feel guilty for it, I cry watching videos of my niece and nephew, wondering do they recognise my face. I stress about not being there for my family when I know they need my help at home. I feel guilty for missing precious time with my parents, as they grow older.

I long for a day where I can be closer to them, to feel secure enough to live a happy life in Ireland. But while the rents are rising dramatically, jobs opportunities outside the capital are scarce and the housing crisis is worse than it has ever been, a lonely London is where I need to try to build a life – for now.