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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

What the Irish miss most about home when living abroad 

By Sarah Finnan
04th Apr 2023
What the Irish miss most about home when living abroad 

There's no place like home, after all.

Inspired by Barry’s Tea’s latest campaign, which celebrates that unparalleled feeling of coming home to a cuppa, I asked my Irish pals living abroad what they miss most about life on the Emerald Isle. From chicken fillet rolls to An Post and freezing cold sea swims, here’s what they had to say.

It’s no kept secret that when you move abroad, Ireland becomes – to anyone who asks – the best place in the world. We are so inextricably shaped by the landscape and people we grew up around, and when you move away, you take a piece of that with you. 

I love walking to get my morning coffee, and a familiar song might start to play that reminds me of being on Dun Laoghaire pier as a teenager or singing that same tune on those long buses we took to the Gaeltacht. I might bump into a stranger on the street who walks on, silent. And this will remind me that the kindness of Irish strangers is like no other. I’ll meet other Irish people, living away from home like me and that bond is warm and familiar. We’ll share stories of our mothers asking if we’re eating and wearing our coats, and laugh about how much we miss them. 

No matter what city you’re in, and whether you’re there for two days or two years, you will always find someone who shares a piece of Ireland with you. And there’s nothing more special than getting to share those memories of ice-cold swims, sunny days and no sun cream, and the magic of Ireland at Christmas time – it’s a place like no other. – Katie Stevens, London

The things I miss about home change from day to day. Family and friends are the main ones, especially my mother and her brown bread. As much as I love living in Australia, it can be tough too when you have nieces and nephews growing up so far away. It makes you wonder when you’ll get to see them and how many milestones you’ll miss. Australia is just so far away and you can’t just pop home for the weekend, which leads me to another thing that I miss but never expected to – Ryanair and their cheap flights! 

The last thing I can think of (but sometimes the most intense one), is food from home. Some days it’s a chicken fillet roll, some days it’s a garlic cheese chip, but the honourable mention has to go to my dearly beloved and the owner of my heart: Mekong in Longford. If I could move Australia closer to Ireland for that alone, I would. – Elaine Murphy, Broome

What I miss the most about Ireland is the general unceremonious kindness Irish people throw out into the world. A wave at the zebra crossing, a thank you to the bus driver or the human nod of acknowledgement when you cross paths with a stranger. Since moving away, I’ve discovered that it’s inherently Irish and inherently beautiful. 

I also miss a seaside swim followed by a fresh pint of Guinness and chipper chips soaked in vinegar (especially the ones at the bottom of the bag). 

The final thing I miss is Irish weather (which I never thought I would say!). Living in Northern mainland Europe and in an inland city like Brussels, the winter months are marked by a grey cloud which hovers over the city, not allowing any sunlight to break through. It can be quite claustrophobic. When I think of Ireland, I think of four seasons in a day – you’ll always have a moment in the day when you can quickly go for a walk and grab a coffee. – Laetitia Close, Brussels

I would say that I miss the kind of community feel to Ireland. For example, being able to go for a walk around my area and knowing that everyone will give you a friendly hello or you’ll see about three people you know on your walk. Also having a really tightly-knit family community as well. How my aunties just call in for cups of tea and they’re all living in the locality. Everyone’s close by and everyone knows everyone. I know there’s lots to say about people not liking that as well to an extent,  but for me that’s lovely and what I miss most about home. – Emily Bird, London

I would say that I miss fresh air, that fresh clean sea breeze – especially because I’m from Galway. I miss the sea itself. I miss the fact that everybody knows everybody… I know some people might see that as a negative thing, but I love the small talk and the fact that you can talk to anybody you meet at home, whether they’re a stranger or someone you know. When I was living in London, I found it very cold there because nobody speaks to anybody. I definitely miss the friendliness and that famous Irish welcome and attitude that Irish people have. 

I  miss walking. I miss a lot of freshness – fresh air, fresh water, nature. In Indonesia, the air is very polluted and it’s hot year-round… I actually miss the cold sometimes as well.

I would say those are the main things. And of course,  chicken fillet rolls, Mi Wadi, Barry’s teabags and a good pint of cider. It doesn’t matter where I go here, they don’t do cider so I really miss a crispy, cold pint of cider as well. – Becca Gillen, Bali

I’m only in Australia four months so I don’t think I’m gone long enough to really miss anything but the main thing that comes to mind is being able to have a cup of tea with my mam and just have the chats and catch up. Obviously, there’s still WhatsApp and FaceTime and things like that but there’s just nothing as good as having a cup of tea with your mam face-to-face. 

I also miss outings with friends for birthdays and things – seeing everyone at home celebrating without you, you just feel like you’re missing out a little bit. Not forgetting the Irish humour and a good Irish stew!  – Shauna Kenny, Perth

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and there’s nothing like moving away to make you realise how big all of the little things really are. That’s the big realisation since moving to New York two months ago. 

Of course, food is up there with the biggest physical cravings I miss from home. I am already counting down the days until I am home to have a pub carvery and a spice bag. I can smell it. 

Emotionally, the pull is obviously for family and friends. No matter how good of a time I could be having here – whether it is lapping up the sun in Yankee Stadium, strolling around Central Park at sunset, or celebrating St Patrick’s Day at the famous Fifth Avenue parade – I’m always checking to see the time and who is still awake at home. It is a constant state of FOMO. Watching my football friends at home just sitting in our local pub after the first match of the season hit deep. Missing Mother’s Day dinner, Saturday night takeaways, and the first Paddy’s Day ice cream of the season. Hearing my brother has already moved on to a new tense in Irish and I wasn’t the one to help him study this time. It sounds silly, but my heart hurts. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is great to be here, and it is an experience I have dreamt about my whole life. But the truth of it is, half of my heart is and will always be at home. And I think it is just part of the process. 

Mentally, I have to admit I’m missing nature. I do love the buzz of the city, but seeing the new budding daffodils in the gardens in spring, hearing the sounds of the birds in the mornings, and feeling the mental effect of grand stretch in the evenings – that is hard to beat. I’m working at the World Trade area, looking out at the Statue of Liberty from my new office desk, and in awe every day of my new skyscraper surroundings every single day… But there is a lot to be said for that grand stretch we all joke about, the internal buzz it brings after the never-ending dark days of winter, and the glorious spring/summer evenings and memories it creates. 

I am already missing the after-work evening strolls and chats both at home in Donegal and Dublin, with the blazing sunsets and smell of fresh sea air as the backdrop. And don’t even talk to me about sea swims. I can’t watch stories of my friends going for post-training/work dips – I didn’t do it enough when I could.

Long story short, it is the little things, and of course the people I love. Home is home and it is always where my heart is. – Katie Gallagher, New York 

I really miss my dog, Jill. I only talk to my dad every day because I want to ask how my dog is and tell him to send me photos! 

Randomly, I also really miss An Post. At home, your post will always get to you – if you write the correct address with the right eircode, it’s definitely going to get you, but even if you don’t, somehow it still manages to arrive. Here, my friend’s mother sent her a birthday card 11 months ago and she still hasn’t gotten it.

In terms of food, the meat and dairy at home are so good – finding a nice steak sandwich or a pub beef burger at home is easy. Over here, a pub beef burger just isn’t the same… they use easy singles instead of proper cheese for one, so I really miss the food at home.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the houses here are made of cardboard and I mean cardboard. I know we complain about the houses at home too but Australian houses have no insulation, they’re made of wood and the infrastructure is really cheap. 

Australia being so far away definitely makes me appreciate how conveniently located Ireland is – it’s like a 22-hour flight home and it’s expensive. In situations where you need to get home for an emergency, it takes a lot longer than you’d like. 

All of that said, I am loving life over here and there are a lot of positives. I’ve never been a morning person before and now if I’m not up by 7am, I feel like I’ve lost the day. There’s a lot more on in the mornings and at night there are a lot more sober activities to do. There isn’t as much of a nightlife which I like too, so overall I’m loving the vibes and having a great time. – Clare McCarrick, Sydney

I miss how extremely friendly the Irish people are to everyone all the time. Like saying thank you to the bus driver or being really chatty to hospitality staff etc. It’s not that the Spanish people are being rude, but saying thank you just isn’t something that’s part of their culture – they only really thank people if they go out of their way to do something that isn’t in their job description. If that isn’t something you’re used to, it can probably come across as a bit rude but Irish people are just so friendly all the time. 

I also really miss the Donegal beaches and scenery (which is where I’m from back home). Whenever you have good weather, you cannot beat Donegal beaches – that is a hill I’m willing to die on! I live a two-minute walk from the beach here in Barcelona and we’ve got some amazing scenery only a short train journey away, but Donegal beaches are unbeatable, in my opinion. 

I miss Dairy Milk chocolate. Nothing will beat the excitement when you walk into a random 24-hour supermarket after a night out to buy a pizza (none of the takeaways here are open after 1am) and you spot that, beautiful purple packaging and there’s a shiny bar of Dairy Milk in front of you. There are only about three shops in Barcelona where I’ve found them. 

Last but not least, I really miss my family. If you’re having a bad day, it’s nice to go home and have your family there to look after you, have your mammy there to make you your dinner and help you be an adult when you are finding it too difficult to be one yourself. So, it’s hard only being able to see them three, or four times a year if you’re lucky.  – Sarah Allan, Barcelona

Starting off with the food, I miss chicken rolls, spice bags, jambons and Irish chocolate – nothing can compare to a Butler’s, a Galaxy or even a bar of Dairy Milk, no other chocolate lives up to it. I also miss the homeliness of home-cooked meals from my mum. Somehow, I’ve never had a lasagne or a shepherd’s pie live up to how she makes it – maybe it’s the wholesomeness but probably the amount of cheese and sauce she uses that just can’t be replicated anywhere else. Baby Guinness are super rare to find abroad and if somewhere does have the ingredients, I normally have to help the bartender make them – I will literally hold the spoon and tell them how to pour it properly! My boyfriend Charlie is genuinely shocked about how awful pints of Guinness are abroad and has found that very few people outside of Ireland know how to pour one properly. Living in Canada, I noticed that no one poured a classic G&T like the Irish do in the massive fish bowl and they didn’t have flavoured tonics either.

Moving abroad is super exciting but I find myself missing the Irish culture a lot – specifically Irish humour. Our dry and sarcastic wit doesn’t always translate abroad. I miss the Irish lingo – being able to be mid-conversation and use the terms like “grand”, “gas”, etc. without having people looking at you weirdly or having to explain yourself.

I also miss our nightlife – how we have a variety of different music options and we don’t just cater to one specific genre like house. I’ve yet to find a spot where I can sing at the top of my lungs to Whitney Houston and jump from table to table dancing. I also miss the friendliness of meeting girls and making friends in the bathrooms on those nights out.

Speaking of friends, I’ve met some fabulous people living in Canada and Amsterdam but finding a connection and the same banter I have with my Irish friends is so hard. I really miss that living abroad – I find myself booking flights back often so as to not miss out on our group plans!

I obviously miss my family too. They don’t live in Amsterdam with me but we make sure to text every day and have one long call a week (if not multiple). Pictures of the family dog and my grandparents are also mandatory. My one rule before I moved away with my boyfriend was that I don’t care how much it costs or where we are living, how far away it is, we HAVE to fly home for Christmas. There is literally nothing better than going back home to Ireland for Christmas! The home-cooked Christmas dinners, the Irish fry-ups, the Christmas movies together, putting up the angel on the Christmas tree while my brother puts up the robins is a non-negotiable tradition that I would never miss. 

Apart from that, driving on the other side of the road is super annoying so I miss that and more reasonably priced flights when travelling.  – Hannah Jackson, Amsterdam

One of the biggest things that we miss over here – and we all say it – is bloody bras and underwear from Penneys. Would you believe you can’t get a decent, cheap pair over here!? Honestly, I get my mother to send me over some.

Obviously, a Chinese takeaway isn’t the same in Australia either and they stop serving doubles and shots very early in the bars – you’d miss that from back home, but you’re also very grateful that they don’t do that.

One of the girls says she misses the €5 vouchers off in Dunnes! The wave of the hand passing a driver in your home town… you’d miss that too.

That said, you’d be homesick if you were in Ireland because all the Irish are in Australia! – Muireann Mulcahy, Sydney

As much as I love it here and I’m a huge advocate for New Zealand – I think it’s one of the most amazing places and is somewhere that Irish people will get on really well because our cultures are quite similar (everyone is really easygoing and chatty and people are generally really kind) – I definitely do miss home at times too. 

I think the thing I miss the most about being back in Ireland is how close everything is. I think we don’t understand at home how easy we have it, in terms of how easy it is to meet up with friends or family. In Ireland, we complain about an hour or two-hour drive, but people here will drive like seven hours to get somewhere on a weekend, not a bother. Whenever I am home next, I don’t care if it’s two hours, three hours, four hours, I’m going to drive all over the country to see my friends! It’s just that closeness, that proximity that I miss. At home, you’re never too far from someone you know. You could go into SuperValu or Aldi and you’ll meet people that you were in secondary school with, people you were in college with…  that’s what hits me the most. 

There’s a huge group of my vet friends in New Zealand and we’ll often drive four, five hours to see each other because we crave other Irish people and that familiarity. We miss the Irishisms and the Irish twang. At home, we make so many excuses for not seeing people but now that I’m here and I haven’t seen anyone for two years, I definitely don’t take that for granted anymore. 

Ireland is such a small little country compared to other places on Earth and I miss the sense of community that comes with living there… which is tied to that same feeling of closeness, I suppose. It’s so random but I miss going to mass on a Sunday and seeing other people from my parish – people that I’ve played football with, people that I’ve gone to primary school with, people I’ve seen at mass every weekend for most of my life. That’s a really weird thing to think of but I miss those community gatherings. 

I also really miss chicken fillet rolls, Tayto, good Guinness… all the usuals. – Shauna Farrell, Dunedin, New Zealand

What do I miss? Family, friends, Mi Wadi (the dilute here is terrible) and Guinness that’s not fizzy. Also not being there for family and friends’ little and large life events. – Anna Lavelle, Sydney

Barry’s Tea has collaborated with Irish artist Claire Prouvost to create a campaign centred on the idea of coming home to a cuppa. Available as a limited edition branded crew neck sweatshirt, the abstract design (titled ‘Homecoming’) costs €24.99 and is available to buy on the Barry’s Tea website now. Amateur artists are encouraged to submit their fan art to be in with a chance of winning a cash prize and have their piece turned into a limited edition jumper and billboard. Full details here

Photo by Marian Brandt on Unsplash