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Happy families? What happened when grown-up kids across Northern Ireland went home for lockdown...

Grown-up children across NI have made the move back home to spend some quality time with parents. Here, two families tell Claire O'Boyle how the unexpected reunions have impacted on their domestic dynamic

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Down under: Emma with her great aunts Celeste and Kathleen in Perth

Down under: Emma with her great aunts Celeste and Kathleen in Perth

All together: Marian and Gary Magill with their children Ryan, Jamie and Abby

All together: Marian and Gary Magill with their children Ryan, Jamie and Abby

Long journey: Emma travelling back to Northern Ireland

Long journey: Emma travelling back to Northern Ireland

Cutting Donal's hair

Cutting Donal's hair

Her first night home

Her first night home

Ryan with his father and brother

Ryan with his father and brother

Enjoying a family board game

Enjoying a family board game

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Down under: Emma with her great aunts Celeste and Kathleen in Perth

Emma Kielty had been in Australia for two weeks when the country introduced a range of strict measures in March and the Prime Minister told travellers to make their way home.

Social care and youth worker Emma, who has a degree from Ulster University, had saved up for the adventure of a lifetime with plans to work and travel for at least a year, when the coronavirus crisis hit. With her plans destroyed, Emma, from Crossgar, Co Down, packed up her backpack, flew back home and is once again living with parents Cathrina and Noel (52), who run a wrap and sandwich bar in Downpatrick, and her younger brothers Niall, (22), and 12-year-old Donal.

Emma (25) says: "It's been a mad time. I'd been planning to go travelling since I was no age and, after graduating in 2017, I got a graduate job and just saved like mad ever since. Then in January this year, when I had enough money gathered up, I resigned. There was a chance to take a career break, but because of the work I did with young people, I wanted to give them a firm answer. So I took all my money out of the credit union, £5,000, and booked my flights. One way to Thailand, and from there, I was heading on to Australia.

"When I looked at my balance, a part of me thought I should take it and put it towards a mortgage, but this had been my dream for years so I just went for it.

"Before I left at the start of February, I'd really heard very little about coronavirus at home. It didn't seem like anything that was going to cause such huge upheaval. But when I got to Bangkok, people there were wearing masks. When I moved to Phuket, everyone was in them and there were signs everywhere about washing hands and avoiding live food markets. Over the 16 days I was there, things got progressively worse, and every time I moved to a new place by ferry or plane I was getting my temperature taken.

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Long journey: Emma travelling back to Northern Ireland

Long journey: Emma travelling back to Northern Ireland

Long journey: Emma travelling back to Northern Ireland

"After Thailand I went to Malaysia on the way to Australia, and I wore a mask the whole way on the flight.

"I went straight to stay with my great aunts in Perth who I'd planned to stay with for a couple of weeks before heading on and finding work. We caught up for a few days, and they took me out to an Irish bar, where I asked about getting a couple of shifts.

"But the guy laughed and told me they'd be closing in a couple of days. It happened so quick in Australia. Lockdown there wasn't gradual, it was immediate.

"At the start I thought I'd sit tight, isolate with my aunts by the pool and I'd get out and get a job. But they didn't hold back on the news. They said all hospitality would be closing down, and hundreds of thousands would be out of a job. They were telling travellers to go home because when they started reopening the economy it would be Australians first.

"Getting out of the country was terrible. I booked a flight which was cancelled, and then I queued for hours in a packed airport trying to get on another one. It felt like I'd never get out. Eventually, on March 30, I got a flight through the Irish embassy from Perth via Doha and back to Dublin. I wore a mask the whole way back.

"I was finally back in my mum and dad's house on April 1, and we all had to isolate for two weeks. I've travelled a lot and you always think you can get home whatever happens because they world is so free and easily got around.

"So to think I could have been trapped there was really scary and I'm very glad to be home. If someone had told me in January I'd be back home in April and on the dole, that would not have been a scenario I'd have wanted.

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Cutting Donal's hair

Cutting Donal's hair

Cutting Donal's hair

"But in the circumstances, it's the best thing to have happened. It's lovely to be home with my family. I'm helping my brother Donal with his schoolwork and I don't think we've ever spent this much time together.

"My mum is buying me plenty of wine to get me through, and I hope at the end of this I can give my travel plans another go. I won't give up on the idea just yet."

‘We’re enjoying our time together, although we’ve had our moments’

Mum Cathrina (47) says: "When we said goodbye to Emma back in February, of course I was upset to see her go. I knew I'd miss her. But I was so happy for her too, because I knew how much she wanted to travel and I was glad of all the opportunities that could be out there for her.

"She's very committed with a great work ethic, and I had no doubt she would do very well.

"But she hadn't long arrived in Perth when things started to get a bit worrying. Back here, right at the start of March we still weren't too worried about coronavirus.

"But over there, they were taking it very seriously and restrictions were coming in. I thought because she'd made it the whole way there it would be a real shame to turn straight around and, there she was sitting drinking G&Ts at my aunts' house by the pool under a lime tree.

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Emma, Cathrina and Granny

Emma, Cathrina and Granny

Emma, Cathrina and Granny

"But Emma was getting the very clear message that people who weren't from Australia should try to get out as soon as possible.

"So we did what we had to do, and got her out of there. She booked herself onto a flight, which was cancelled, but eventually right at the end of March, we got her a place on a repatriation one that took her to Dublin.

"By then, lockdown was in place here. It was so disappointing for Emma, and we all felt it.

"It wasn't cheap to get her home either, but we're glad we were able to do it. There must have been loads of other backpackers out there who were completely stuck.

"Having Emma home is a relief, but it's been upsetting. Signing on to the dole is a million miles from what she thought she'd be doing right now, but knowing we're all home together and safe is the main thing.

If she was still there right now, with all the uncertainty we're experiencing around the world, it would have been much worse.

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Her first night home

Her first night home

Her first night home

"And we've managed to enjoy our time a bit too. We're very lucky because we're here and safe, all under one roof - although we do have our moments.

"Emma's pretty good and getting hold of our wine, for one! But we're getting the fire on at night and Emma is helping to home-school Donal too, which is great.

"Once the dust settles on all this, I have no doubt she'll be planning some new adventures."

‘It’s back to normal with my brother, shouting at each other... I missed it’

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Ryan at his formal last year

Ryan at his formal last year

Ryan at his formal last year

Ryan Magill moved from his family home in Warrenpoint, Co Down, to Belfast last September. Working in retail with plans to return to his studies in the next academic year with an adult access course, the 19-year-old was living with student friends and enjoying his independence when the coronavirus outbreak hit. Struck down with what he fears were symptoms of the virus, the teenager stuck it out at his Stranmillis house while his friends moved home, and he felt better.

After being furloughed from his job in the M&S Bureau de Change Ryan moved back home with mum Marian and dad Gary, a taxi driver, brother Jamie (16) and sister Abby (10) about a week after the UK went into lockdown.

Ryan (19) says: "I'm glad to be home. It's better than sitting up in Belfast on my own. When my friends started to move home with the universities starting to close, I was okay for a few days on my own because I had my PlayStation and it was nice and quiet, but then I'd realise it was night time and I was there on my own. It wasn't too nice so I was glad to get back.

"I moved to Belfast last year when all my friends came up for university, and there were five of us in the house. It was all guys, and good craic. They'd be doing their work and I was earning some money, with plans to do an access course at Newry tech this September. I wanted to do it last year, but I was just a couple of months too young and had to defer it.

"I took the year as a bit of a gap year, and was really enjoying it, learning a bit of independence, cooking for myself, having my own room and all that sort of thing. At home, I share with my brother, so even having my own room was a change.

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Ryan with his father and brother

Ryan with his father and brother

Ryan with his father and brother

"When the coronavirus stuff all started, the change was quite gradual in our house, and then it all happened really suddenly. My friends sort of filtered out, and one of them went home as usual for the weekend and just never came back. When the schools shut properly on the Wednesday, everything speeded up.

"Lockdown happened on the Monday, and I started feeling pretty unwell and that night I phoned 111. I don't know if I had it because I didn't get tested, but they told me not to go in, especially because most of the people coming into the bureau were elderly people whose holidays were being cancelled coming in to change their money back.

"I stayed on in Belfast then because I didn't want to bring anything home with me. My mum had already been off sick, and I didn't want her to miss out on more work if I gave her whatever I had.

"I just enjoyed the peace and quiet, and cooked some curry for myself, and I was fine. My mum was asking me to come home though. And once I got furloughed, I was pretty relieved.

"Now I'm back home it's actually good. It's nice spending time with everyone, and it's back to normal with my brother, arguing over who's better at what, and shouting at each other about the internet. I had missed it all, really, and my wee sister is content now I'm back.

"I've had one night doing a bit of drinking and catching up with my friends over Zoom, which was good craic, and it'll all get back to normal eventually.

"They're all in the same boat for now, and we know we're lucky that we have this as an option."

‘We’re happy knowing we’re all here safe under one roof’

Mum Marian (44) says: "Saying goodbye to Ryan in September was sad, but we were happy he wanted to get out into the world and learn a bit of independence. He's an intelligent young man, and we're happy that it looks like he'll be back on a course next year.

"But coming home early like this was unexpected for him, we know that. We're happy though. As soon as it started to look quite serious, we just wanted him home, and when I found out he wasn't well it was worrying.

"But he's back now and it's good. I'm out during the day a lot, working in Spar, and when I come back in the afternoon sometimes I'll find the two boys aren't long out of bed. They're just chilling out and enjoying themselves as much as they can.

"We're doing all sorts of fun things that ordinarily you'd never take the time to do. Ryan's been teaching us some new card game, Coup, that he learned up in Belfast.

"We've been playing the Game of Life, and we've been out for walks with the dog, picking up stones at the beach and taking them home to paint.

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Enjoying a family board game

Enjoying a family board game

Enjoying a family board game

"It's not been easy for everyone, it's such a big change to all our lives, but we're trying to make the most of it.

"Ryan still has bills to pay up in Belfast. The contract on their house goes on until September, but luckily being furloughed means all the essentials are covered. When he decided to come up, Gary drove up to Belfast to get him and took back a few bags with clothes and his PlayStation, but there's still plenty up there. We don't want to be up and down the road unless we have to, so we'll just leave what's there for the time being.

"We've always been quite relaxed as parents, and especially with Ryan being 19 now we're not on his back because we know it will have been hard moving back home after living away all those months. He and his brother are almost in a wee self-contained flat, and he continues to cook plenty of food for himself. He's a good fella and other than wishing he would pick up his dirty washing a bit more, we've never had any issues with him.

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All together: Marian and Gary Magill with their children Ryan, Jamie and Abby

All together: Marian and Gary Magill with their children Ryan, Jamie and Abby

All together: Marian and Gary Magill with their children Ryan, Jamie and Abby

"I love having him home, it's great for me, and we're just so much more contented knowing we're all here and safe under the one roof. We're having plenty of laughs, and there's a lot to be said for that when something so serious is going on. I'm counting myself lucky an awful lot these days."

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