We left Northern Ireland for pastures new... but the grass turned out to be greener back home
As St Patrick’s Day revellers gather to raise a toast to the mighty shamrock, Kerry McKittrick talks to three local people who left here years ago only to return and discover a new quality of life
St Patrick's Day celebrations are well under way today with parades planned province-wide to laud anything and everything that is Irish. Belfast city centre is festooned in green in readiness for the St Patrick's Day parade which will make its way to Custom House Square.
Meanwhile, big cities all over the world from Sydney's famous Opera House to the London Eye will glow in green to mark the occasion.
For all the fun to mark the bringing of Christianity to Ireland, though, the province has historically been a place that people often leave behind them for better job opportunities or to escape the legacy of the Troubles.
The massive Irish ex-pat populations all over the globe are a testament to the journeys made to find a better way of life.
We talk to three people who had thought they had left Northern Ireland for good - only discover themselves going back to their roots.
Laura Montgomery (32) is the senior market insight director for Portadown-based pharmaceutical company, Almac. She lives in Co Tyrone with her husband Ross. She says:
I went to Strathclyde University to study economics and modern languages. I had always planned to go away to university and I didn't really plan to move home again. As a student of languages, travel was always on the agenda for me and I spent a year in Italy as part of my course.
However, once I finished university, I didn't know what to do, so I went home to Co Tyrone for a year, and it was during that time that I got met Ross.
Eventually I found a job and moved over to Manchester to take a role with a pharmaceutical company doing market research.
Ross moved with me - he's originally from a farming background but he actually wanted to qualify as a gas engineer and that's easier to do in England than it is here.
We didn't have a plan to settle in Manchester or anywhere in particular, but it looked as if it would be that way. We rented for the first four years until we saved enough money to buy a house. And it was hard work as we tried to establish ourselves in our respective careers. We were in Manchester for eight years and it went by very quickly - I travelled a lot and Ross worked weekends. But we made friends, fixed up our house and got married back in Northern Ireland.
Then I started looking for a new job, although I wasn't actively looking in Northern Ireland because I didn't think I would get something over here that would work for me. I found a job in Dublin and it appealed as it would mean being nearer to home. But then I applied for a job with Almac and secured an interview. It was only then that Ross and I sat down and decided that we would both be happier back in Northern Ireland. While I had been looking for a change of job anyway we realised we both wanted to be close to our families.
I never thought I would be able to get this kind of job in Northern Ireland - it's a niche role but I had the right kind of experience so it was a good fit.
We had a bit of a transition period after I got the job with Almac. I started with the company in September 2014 and spent nine months going back to Manchester at the weekends. In that time Ross was working on our house which we wanted to do up before we sold it.
We both officially settled back here in August - Ross is now working with a local plumber.
We're very happy with the move we have made. We're in the process of buying a house and because of the money we made selling our property in Manchester the one here will be our forever home.
Our jobs are both going well and neither of us have the notion that we didn't make the right decision."
Christopher McCrudden (64) is a professor of human rights and equality law at Queen’s University. He lives in Belfast with his wife Caroline and they have two adult children, Joseph (23) and Kathleen (22). He says:
Firstly I went to Queen’s University to read law and then went on to do a Masters degree at Yale Law School in America. Afterwards I went to Oxford to do a doctorate and stayed on there.
Since the Seventies, I’ve been living in Oxford, working in academia and practising as a barrister.
I met Caroline, who is English, in Oxford — she’s a tropical biologist, so there’s really no other place I would have met her other than Oxford.
We were in Oxford for a long time but we had always intended to move back to Northern Ireland.
At the point we decided to go, our children had grown up and gone away to university, but in 2011 I received a major research fellowship from Queen’s which meant I could spend three or four years wherever I wanted.
It meant we spent last year in Berlin, and the year before that we were in New York.
We only really landed in Belfast in October and I’ve been full-time in Queen’s since then.
I don’t have a big family pull to come back here — for me it was all about Queen’s University. When it comes to human rights and equality issues Queen’s has one of the strongest law faculties anywhere in the UK. I like teaching here and the students are good.
Caroline liked the idea of moving over here — there aren’t a lot of tropical trees here, so her research is mostly in south east Asia.
It means she would have to travel wherever she was based in the United Kingdom.
We had very happy times in Oxford, so it wasn’t that we wanted to leave there, but we actively wanted to come to Belfast.
We’ve come back frequently while we lived in Oxford, so we’ve forged strong links here and Caroline is very happy to come here. I never really feel like I left and we’ve followed the changes here closely over the years.
We both want to contribute to the new Northern Ireland.
We’re happy to be here now but we don’t have any plans for retirement. I’ve been doing things here that I wouldn’t have been doing in Oxford — giving evidence to the Assembly and talking to the House of Lords about Brexit.
It’s really interesting time for anyone in my line of work so I’m really enjoying being back.”
Charlene Greensword (38) is a midwife. She lives in Donaghmore with her husband Ian and their children; Kitty-Rose (7), Connie (3) and Seth (10 months). She says:
Initially I went to York University to study nursing and then after a couple of years working as a nurse I went to Bradford University to train as a midwife.
I didn’t plan to go away at all but I couldn’t get into the nursing course at Queen’s. I really didn’t enjoy my first year in England — I was very homesick and couldn’t settle. I even tried to transfer to Queen’s to finish my course. After about 18 months, though, I had made new friends and was very happy there so I stayed, and bought a house. That was where my life was, so I was happy to stay in England.
I met Ian through friends — he was a technician in the ambulance service. We bought a house together, got married and had our eldest two children. We were living in Harrogate in Yorkshire which was a beautiful place to live and we had a great social life. While I missed home, I had no great yearnings to come back.
Then a mixture of things happened. My mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died which made me connect to the place she was from a lot more. It made me look at life differently, especially as I was a mum, too. Ian wanted us to move back here because he could see that the standard of living was much cheaper than England.
Across the water, we both worked shifts which meant we had very little time together as a family and it took its toll on us. Ian’s family were close by but family doesn’t mean the same thing in England as it does here — I’m from a big, very supportive family.
We thought about it for five years — I put the house on the market and took it off again. I had job offers and didn’t take them.
One thing that really convinced me happened a couple of days before Christmas. I was pregnant with Connie and was just coming in from a night shift to see Ian going out the door for a day shift. I thought to myself that it wasn’t what I wanted for my life or my children. I wanted them to have both their parents there at Christmas and I wanted them to have a better life and I knew we would have that back home.
We moved here in February 2014 and we’ve managed to settle in really quickly. Ian has taken to Northern Ireland like a duck to water.
I got a job at the Ulster Hospital which was a bit of a commute and Ian did struggle to find work. We were living off just my salary but because of cheaper costs over here Ian was able to retrain and is now working as a physio's assistant.
The girls have settled in really well, too, and they’re very happy. Kitty-Rose is a fantastic Irish dancer and came second in the Ulster championship which she would never have been able to do in England.
She’s part of the national stage school over here and will soon be performing at the Waterfront Hall.”