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First person

“One day I packed my bags and came home to Kerry.”

By January 1, 2022No Comments



The pandemic kicked off a return to home for many around the country, Edaein O’Connell looks at what happened next…


Many of us will never forget March 12, 2020. Standing on a podium in Washington DC, then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed our nation, stating that schools, colleges and childcare facilities would close. Offices were advised to work from home, and mass gatherings were halted. We thought it would last two weeks. On that day, we could not fully understand the gravity of the situation. Nobody could have foreseen that our lives as we knew them would utterly change.

As restrictions grew tighter and widespread, pubs, restaurants and shops closed. Theatres and cinemas turned off the lights, and once-vibrant city centres became bare and disheartened. We realised this was not a short-term solution. As time moved on, a migration started in Ireland. Young people who had moved to Dublin for work, social life, and the buzz of a city began to travel the long road home. Sadly, jobs were lost. Rents were high, and working from home in cramped apartments wasn’t cutting it. Some forgot why they had moved in the first place. The city no longer offered the opportunities and excitement it once had. 

And so, they left and returned to small cities, towns and rural areas across the country. They moved back in with their parents and started anew. They set up shop in places they never thought they’d return to.

So what is life like for them now, and what will they do next?

Elizabeth Fearns, 32, lived in Dublin for nine years when a friend warned her to leave early in 2020. 

“She rang me and said this is much worse than what we think it is,’ she recalls. “Then she told me to get out of Dublin as soon as I could, but I resisted because I thought it would blow over quickly. No one knew how fast the pandemic would move.”

Elizabeth says she sees herself staying in her native home long term.

It wasn’t until her roommates began to leave that Elizabeth realised it was time to say goodbye to the city she had called home. “They left, and I didn’t want to be on my own or paying extortionate rent, so one day I packed my bags and came home to Kerry,” she says. “The intention was to return to Dublin because I always envisioned my life being there, but then suddenly there was nothing to do, no one to see. My perspective on city life started to change.”

Elizabeth moved in with her parents in rural Ballymacelligott and said that initially, it was a culture shock. However, as time went by, she became more accustomed to the slower pace of life and even got a job locally in PR. 

“I would not change my life for the world now,” she notes. “We have beaches on our doorstep, forests, fields and beautiful countryside. Life is slower, and I’m no longer stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. I’m a five-minute drive to work, and I can save. In today’s world, these are blessings.”

Elizabeth says she sees herself staying in her native home long term.

“Don’t get me wrong, I do miss the odd cocktail and brunch, but the grass is always greener on the other side, and I’m more mindful of that,” she explains. “I’m very happy being at home. I have a job I love, my family and friends are here, and I’m a country girl at heart.”

And it wasn’t just those in Dublin returning to green fields. Donegal woman Karen Kennedy was living a cosmopolitan life in London when the pandemic struck. “I had lived in New York for two years before that and at the end of 2019 moved to London,” she explains. “I was only getting to know the place when everything went into lockdown, so I decided to go back to Letterkenny while I was furloughed from my marketing role.”

For Karen, those first few months at home were a break she didn’t even know she needed. “I had lived that hustle and bustle city life for so long, and I didn’t realise how exhausted my body and mind were,” she recalls. 

Luckily, when the economy picked up, Karen’s job employed her again and gave her the option to work remotely. “It’s amazing to think that I can oversee everything in my job in London from the middle of Donegal,” she explains. “I get to travel there once a month because of work, so I get the best of both worlds.”

For Karen, those first few months at home were a break she didn’t even know she needed

While she says she may move away once more in the new year, Karen is grateful she got the chance to come home. Young people finally have options and home can now offer them solace and a career. 

“I never imagined myself back in Donegal,” she says.”I didn’t think it was possible, and I felt I had to be in a major city as long as I wanted to work. And so many of my friends are in the same situation. Our social life is fantastic because we are all here, so that’s a plus.”

The tale of a declining rural Ireland was one we had heard before. With each passing year, more and more went on the search for pastures new. However, with this youth relocation, isn’t there hope for these areas’ social and economic future? Thankfully, it seems there is. With this rural return comes young business minds hoping to spark growth in their communities. One of these individuals is 28-year-old Adam Scally, Tribe Irish Gin School co-founder. Adam had just started a new life in Australia when the pandemic forced him to return home to Galway city. “I came back in April 2020 and lived with my parents while I got myself set up,” he says. “At the same time, three of my friends found themselves in the same position. So while at home, we played around with a few ideas and decided to create a gin unique to the west of Ireland along with a gin school where you can distill your own bottle.”

Currently, Adam also works for a start-up in Dublin, meaning he separates his time between Galway and the capital. Yet, he aims to eventually make Tribe his focus and move back home permanently. The unexpected homecoming of his generation is one of the main reasons his friends took the business plunge. “You can see more young people around; it’s great to see,” he says. “A big part of why we chose to start Tribe is to give jobs to those in the area and keep it vibrant and buzzing. We not only want to secure a future for ourselves but for our community too.”

These career moves have been a plus for Adam but moving home also provided him with a simple, bittersweet life. And it’s one he won’t be letting go of any time soon. 

“I had friends in the US, Spain and the UK, and now we are all back at home in Galway,” he explains. “It’s like we are 15 again, meeting up on our bikes. I never thought I’d be back, but I am and I appreciate my home now more than ever before.”