As thousands of Irish leave the shores of the Emerald Isle for pastures greener, the task of raising our children to be aware and proud of their heritage and mindful of their Irish roots becomes a weight for us expat parents to bear, as being an Irish Citizen is the only thing more important that being from Cork.
Instead of feeling cheated that poor Ireland was unable to sustain a solvent balance sheet and provide employment opportunities for its scholars, many parents are heading off to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with the Bun go Barr, the “as Gaeilge” Primary school workbook, tucked firmly underneath their armpit, determined to teach Millie and Jamie their native language, despite having emigrated to the dusty land of Arabia.
I was that solider, hours and tears spent at the kitchen table in the Middle East, trying to hammer home the intricacies of the Aimser Laithreach and the Aimser Caite to the children, impressing on them the significance of same in order to be able to hold a conversation as Gaeilge correctly, should they ever make it home. Not ones to bum from the state or hold the Irish Government accountable for our forced emigration, we would make ourselves scarce for a few years, lighten the burden on the live register and return to open welcoming arms, that was my plan anyway. I downloaded online Irish language games, worksheets and tests just in case the children would feel hard done by, having to attend the fabulously facilitated private British school and proceed along their education journey down the GSCE route and not the Leaving Certificate road that their Irish residing counterparts would sit.
The Irish education curriculum not being possible in the Middle East, today’s emigrant Irish children have no option other than to attend an English Speaking, British Curriculum Private School, unless they have a penchant and a knowledge of Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan, German languages, in which case they could attend any of those schools. Being a reluctant emigrant, I took the reality of the children missing out on Irish pretty seriously and made massive strides to incorporate Gaeilge into their lives. Reminding and reassuring them that once they would return to Ireland, they would be accepted back in secondary school or college and my efforts of home schooling would see their Irish lilt intact.
“What do we need it for?” was the question the children often threw onto the table, particularly on the nights when the sun was setting and they waned beneath the A/C and the fading light trying to get to grips with Irish grammar and prose. Having all the answers, I’d respond, “You’d need it to be a Garda, a Teacher and a plethora of other things that I am unable to call quickly to mind”. Thus continued the home schooling and the thus continued the dream of going home and seeing the children ditch the GSCE’s for the Leaving Cert, and gain the points for their desired option in University College Cork. Emigration for a few years prior wouldn’t change anything, not on my watch, if anything it would broaden their knowledge and make them into a new breed of super efficient beings, the Hybrid Irish – Irish Citizens, World experienced.
However, the dream dispelled and the vision of my cherubs graduating for UCC became an unreachable mirage when I recently learned that in order to qualify for a college education as an Irish citizen, our emigrant children must be in education or employment in Ireland for at least three of the five previous years, otherwise the full fee would apply!
So to recap, I am forced to leave Paddy’s green shamrock shores due to the lack of perspective and shortsightedness of the Irish Government, I ask nothing from the state and gain nothing by way of education or healthcare, I return to Ireland to be informed that my children are not now entitled to the same education opportunity as their friend Agneiska from next door.
The possibility of returning home not looking any brighter as the years trickle past, I ditch the Bun go Barr for a world atlas, faster than you can say, “no college grant” and wonder, Does Ireland even want these children back?