Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Travelling from the ends of the earth to be back with family

Over the last few days thousands of people have been making their way by plane, train, boat and car to Northern Ireland to spend Christmas with their families. Kerry McKittrick hears the stories of four of those who have been crossing oceans to be here for the festive season.

Sharon Eccles (42) is a technical manager. Originally from Belfast she is married to Malcolm and lives in Melbourne:

I was in Manchester for work when I met Malcolm who was also there through his work. When I came home we kept in touch by email and phone for a few weeks. At the time I was living in Londonderry and he was living in Larne. We had our first date a few months later at the Giant's Causeway and six months later I proposed to him on February 29.

Shortly after that Malcolm got a phone call about the possibility of a job in Australia - he was working for the National Grid at the time. We flew out to have a look at the potential of the place for a week and decided that if my grandparents could do seven years out there as £10 Poms - people from the UK were given £10 assisted passages to Australia after the Second World War -- then there was no reason we couldn't do a couple of years.

We moved to Melbourne in April 2005 although we did make a visit back home and married in Italy a few months later. Since then, though, we've been in Australia. Originally we had planned to stay for three years because Malcom was on secondment from the National Grid. After the three years were up we were told that the company he worked for - an electricity firm called Basslink - was being sold and we were being sold with it. When we told them we would like to become Australian citizens they actually offered him the CEO role and he's been in the post ever since.

I'm an only child and my parents recently moved back to Lisburn from Donegal. We're aware that at some point they might need support - my mother is partially sighted - and we might have to come home. There are no firm plans yet and perhaps if we do come home later on we could return to Australia, as we both took Australian citizenship about five years ago.

We've had some incredible opportunities in Australia and such good fun, but at the end of the day we still miss the banter from home. There hasn't been a big ex-pat Irish community for about five years.

We're heading home this Christmas for four weeks and it will be the first time I've spent the festive season at home since 2004 so we're very excited. I can't wait to be cold on Christmas Day and to have proper turkey instead of seafood on the barbecue. It's due to be 35 degrees on Christmas Day in Melbourne so it's just not the same.

I'll get to do a pub crawl and see the City Hall Christmas tree. Christmas Day will be with my husband and my parents in Lisburn - then we're going to join Malcolm's family in Cumbria for New Year's Eve.

I'm really looking forward to seeing my cousin Orlagh - I'm an only child and she's like a sister to me, so spending time with her and her two wee ones is a top priority.

The thing I'm looking forward to most is having my feet in green soil and having a sense of belonging with my friends and family. I can't wait to hear the accents and the banter and the whimsical conversations people have on the street. As much as I'm privileged to live in Australia and have dual citizenship there really is no place like home."

Liam Parker (35) is a recruitment consultant. Originally from Belfast, he now lives in Singapore with his girlfriend Katie Somers, who he met in Australia. He says:

I left Belfast in the summer of 2011 when I moved to Sydney. I worked in banking and up until then I was based either in Dublin or London. At one point I just threw the head up and decided to make a change because I really wasn't enjoying my job anymore.

I had a few friends who were in Australia and I had been there before on holidays and really liked it so I decided to look into what I would need to do to move out there. I found a job with a company which was looking for a person to recruit people for the same sort of work I had been doing in banking. I was very lucky to land it because they flew me out there, arranged some accommodation and sorted my visa out for me. I basically rocked up on a Monday morning and started work.

It was a great opportunity at a time when I felt like I needed a change.

I didn't have too much of a plan when I went out here. It was a new industry for me and I went over with an open mind. I thought that even if it didn't work out I would give it at least two years.

After five years in Sydney, Katie and I felt like we needed a change. Australia is also very far from home for both of us - she's from Co Wicklow. To go on a holiday from Australia is a nightmare because everywhere is at least a 10-hour flight. We now look at anything with a flight under eight hours as possible for a weekend away. That's the time it takes to get from Belfast to Dubai. The flights are also really expensive because not many airlines fly from Australia. Flights from Sydney to the UK for Christmas can cost up to £2,500.

Katie works in medical technology and had the opportunity to work in Singapore so we decided to go there in March. I still do the same job, but now I work remotely which means I start work at 5am. But being here has given us so many more opportunities to travel.

Since setting up home here we've been to Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Singapore is a very small place with very cheap flights. The first couple of years I was in Sydney I actually went back to Northern Ireland four times for various friends' weddings but I've not been home since April 2014. This time I'll be home for three weeks which is the longest stay since I left Northern Ireland

Of course I miss my friends and family on the other side of the world, but on a very simple level I also miss potato bread and proper tea - it's all about the little things. We could get those things in Sydney because there's a big Irish community over there but not so much in Singapore. In Sydney there's around 40,000 Irish people but only 3,000 in Singapore.

Singapore is a nice place but we might be edging our way back towards Europe. However, either of us could be sent anywhere in the world for our jobs and we're open-minded about it.

As well as catching up with loved ones in Northern Ireland, we're going to explore Belfast too. We want to see Titanic Belfast and some Game of Thrones locations.

I haven't been back in a couple of years and I know Belfast has changed massively - I've heard the Cathedral Quarter is a great place to go. When I left it was essentially the Merchant Hotel and the Pothouse.

There will be a big boys' Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and then after that it will be all family things."

Amy Warke (27) is originally from Ballymoney. She now teaches English in Santiago, Chile. She says:

I've been in Chile for four years now. I came here on a British Council exchange scheme - I had studied Spanish at university so I got a job working at a university in the north of the country.

While I was here I met my boyfriend Sebastian who is from Chile. I did go home after I finished my year placement and we did long distance romance for a while.

As I've been here quite a long time people assume that I've settled here and this is where we will live from now on. It's so very far from home though - I would like to be a bit closer. We might try and do something different, perhaps move nearer Northern Ireland or come home for a year just to see what happens. I'm starting to miss home a bit more now so I would like to be closer.

The problem is that I don't get to come home often. During my year placement I didn't go home once so I spent Christmas away from my family. Then it was another two years before I came back for a visit. I did manage to come home for Christmas last year and Sebastian came with me. I hadn't planned on coming back this year but my family were keen for me to do so. Unfortunately Sebastian can't come with me because of work.

I'm really looking forward to being back for Christmas. In Chile it's summertime and Santiago can get as hot as 40 degrees so it doesn't feel like Christmas at all.

In Chile they do celebrate Christmas, but it's not the big deal that it is at home and I don't really get into the Christmas spirit. At home it's so much more exciting and fun. It's also impossible to get the ingredients for a good Christmas dinner in Chile.

I'm home until January 20 - it's so far to come it's not worth the trip unless I stay a while. The trip will take me 20 hours - I fly Santiago to Rome, then from Rome to London and then London to Belfast.

Seeing my relatives and friends is what Christmas is all about for me.

"I will go to the pub with my friends on Christmas Eve and then I'll spend Christmas Day with my family. I'm hoping that it might snow this year."

Jill McDonald (37) is a DJ. She is originally from Lurgan and now lives in San Francisco. She says:

When I was 30 I decided to do a second degree in design out here in San Francisco. I'd met some people from San Francisco through yoga and they encouraged me to come over. I'd lived away from Northern Ireland a couple of times previously so it wasn't such a difficult a decision for me to make.

Except I haven't left San Francisco, I've fallen in love with it for so many reasons. The weather is amazing and there is so much diversity in the food, the people, the music and everything else. There are so many things to do and places to go.

I don't come home every year - the last time was Christmas 2014 - but my family come over quite a bit to see me. In fact, they might come here for Christmas next year.

This year, however, I'm really looking forward to coming home. I'll see all my friends from Lurgan and my university friends from Queen's. I find myself going from house to house and bar to bar catching up with people. I'll be home for three weeks but I will be working on a few things while I'm here.

Christmas at home is the same as it is for most people. There will be lots of food and I'll get the chance to have lots of naps. We all get together and eat loads of food - mum makes a really good Pavlova.

I'm always struck by how quiet it is in Northern Ireland. I live right in the heart of San Francisco and although I'm used to it now it is very noisy. Back home it's so quiet that I can just sleep for hours on end.

The first thing I do when I get back is get a packet of Tayto cheese and onion crisps and a few slices of Nutty Krust plain bread as well as a good cup of tea. My dad always picks me up when I come home and no matter what time of the day it is he makes me a proper Irish breakfast. No matter how much I miss those things, I don't think I'll move back home permanently in the the foreseeable future.

I've been here so long that my accent has definitely changed - people in San Francisco can't understand what you say and you get tired having to explain all the time so you end up changing how you speak. But I'm right back into my old accent as soon as I get back home."

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