After 16 years in Australia, James Parnell moved home with his wife Anne-Marie and their children Ava (8), Erin (6) and JJ (3). In a series for Irish Times Abroad, he details what it felt like to leave Australia and how he handled the move, documenting the experience from pre-departure planning to arriving in Ireland, facing new challenges and surprises.

‘We are heading back to Ireland, for good.’


Silence and a sympathetic look.


‘So what made you decide that? Family? Children?’


‘Maybe a bit of both – and more. It just feels like time.’


This conversation would have been typical when we decided to return to Ireland after 16 years in Australia.


Fellow emigrants are keen to understand because they immediately empathise and are curious to learn the reasons. Many need an explanation. Were we forced? Did we make the decision – or was it made for us? Does it matter?


I like to believe we made the decision. But it is complex – and pointless -to earmark when the decision process starts and ends. It seems to emerge slowly over time.


In hindsight, a series of events converge to lead us back:

  • Early 2000: We emigrated, for a year initially. As my brother joked at our wedding, ‘he popped out for a bottle of milk and never returned.
  • From that moment – and I suspect this is true of all emigrants – we have a deep-rooted feeling that stays with us. Call it Emigrants’ Ache. I have yet to figure out the cause. Guilt? Homesickness? Lost sense of belonging? Maybe a combination of all three. Once we embrace our new life, we suppress it and push on, which is much easier when the sun shines. The Ache ebbs and flows but never disappears.
  • 2008: We start a family and our perspective changes.
  • 2010: We buy a house and make it a home. We live opposite a nursing home. I find myself imagining the rest of my life in Australia and dying there. I cannot get my head around it. Despite our beautiful family and friends there, it does not sit well.
  • 2012: Anne-Marie’s father Oliver falls sick. We think he will recover. I suggest London be closer to family and something different, but we procrastinate and never pursue it. 
  • 2013: Our children begin to correct our diction. You pronounce it ‘batta’, not butter. Who knew? They are Australian, so why are we surprised?
  • Christmas, 2013: Oliver passes away. Anne-Marie is fortunate to have spent time with him before his passing. We participate in a funeral online for the first time.
  • 2014: We both work in banking and finance. One day Anne-Marie is chatting with an Italian colleague about our three kids and our family in Ireland. She looks at her and asks, “what are you doing here?” It is not just the words that Anne-Marie notices – it is her expression. Something deep down hits home for Anne-Marie. She begins to contemplate.


Looking at the options

  • Late 2014: Anne-Marie hints at moving to Ireland. But she never subsequently pursues it with any conviction. This decision we will make together.
  • Early 2015: We start to consider returning seriously. We have flights booked for a holiday in Dublin in mid-2015. I am doing what I do best – looking at options and analysing the pros and cons. Sell up and go? Sell up and use the holiday to research? I chat with a friend. He advises us to sit on it for a few months. The decision will make itself.
  • Summer 2015: Our holiday home is fun and, as always, emotional. We see family and friends, go to weddings and overindulge. Most of our life decisions these days seem to be made en route to child-free events. Normally I am a facilitator by nature, but Anne-Marie assumes that role this time. She listens and helps me to leap. We go with our hearts. Decision made.


Three questions keep recurring. In hindsight, the answers are obvious: 

  1. If we stay, will we regret it in later life? A resounding yes. The Ache had not left us in 16 years. Why do we think it would disappear after another 16?
  2. Can we do this? Sure, why not? We have spent 16 years figuring things out ourselves. We can do this easily.
  3. What if it does not work? Well, at least we can say we tried. We grasped the nettle. We lived. We learned and dealt with the outcome, whatever it might be. We will have no regrets, just as we have none from the Australian chapter. Having to leave again does not represent failure. Not trying would be.


In the end, the choice appeared once we figured out the right questions to ask. We dived deep inside to reach our decision. We took an intuitive leap. We listened and took time for our decision to arrive, eventually.


Decisions of the heart

Ultimately we listen to our lives and the innate wisdom within our hearts. I trust those decisions more than some from my head. Because I rarely regret them. 

So, heart-decision made, and we planned and executed it with our heads. 

We are back. The next phase will bring joy and challenge in equal measure. Writing is therapy for me, and I hope it will be helpful to others, too.

James Parnell is the founder of A New Dawn in Ireland community and provides online coaching for anyone inspired to change their life.

This article is an excerpt from the book A New Dawn in Ireland. If you would like to be notified when the book is published simply register here.