Grainne Keaney (St. Mary’s Road, Galway to Sydney, Australia)
Grainne Keaney & Sister (on left)
Grainne Keaney was part of the flood of emigration from Ireland in the mid-1980s. Having worked in London and Boston, she then spent eight months travelling the world before heading to Australia in 1992.
Name: Grainne Keaney
Now living in: Sydney, Australia
From: St. Mary’s Road, Galway City
Grainne Keaney was part of the flood of emigration from Ireland in the mid-1980s. Having worked in London and Boston, she then spent eight months travelling the world before heading to Australia in 1992. On arrival in Sydney, she knew it was a place where she could put down roots. Now married with two children and running a consulting engineering business, her own experience has instilled her with a sense of duty towards the new wave of Irish emigrants who have come to Oz.
I have great memories of growing up in Galway – they were lean but happy, simple and innocent times. Our family lived on St Mary’s Road in Galway and I attended Taylor’s Hill secondary school. Galway is now a different city and I think that we had the best years in Galway as kids growing up. Good memories include spotting boys at Blackrock, the roller disco in town, the beautiful crib and the midnight mass at Christmas, the Oasis Nightclub and Alfie’s Pub during the Uni years. It was certainly a less complicated and less pressured time to be a student in Galway than it is now. I do, however, remember always having a big dislike for the constant rain and cold – I would gaze up with envy at jet planes flying off to warmer lands and though I always imagined I would be on one of them eventually, I never imagined I wouldn’t come back to live in Galway.
I completed a degree in Civil Engineering in UCG in 1987, and like so many others of my age, I left Ireland, pure and simply, to find work. After working in London for two and a half years, I then took up a green card to work in US (Boston) for eighteen months. I then spent eight months traveling around the world before moving to Sydney in 1992. When I first arrived in Sydney and took a ferry across from the city to another suburb to stay in a backpacker’s hostel, I was in complete awe of this method of transport and the place. Sydney Harbour and the beaches were so beautiful and so empty of people compared to living in Boston, and I immediately felt that Sydney was a place that I could settle in forever. During my time in London I had met an Australian, and two years after arriving in Australia, Alan and I got married. We have two girls together. In fact, ten years after graduating from UCG, I obtained a Master of Engineering Studies at the University of Sydney… complete with a six-week-old Emma in my arms who had arrived just in time!
Both of my daughters are very connected to their Irish family and eighteen cousins. They have been making trips back to Ireland every year or two since they were born. We came back to live in Galway as a family for twelve months in 2005, just so that they could experience that life. My eldest daughter, Emma, spent time in Ireland last year during her gap year travels around Europe. My second daughter, Aisling, is about to embark on a similar trip this year having now finished school. Being half Irish is quite defining for them both and although they don’t ever say they are proud to be half Irish, I know that they value having that extra element of culture and interest in their lives. They both love being part of such a big family (there are currently twelve adults and twenty children on the Irish side of the family). Emma also competed in Irish dancing here in Sydney for about six years when she was younger. My accent has not changed at all since I left Ireland, and I’m sure it never will. I feel proud to be Irish in Australia, and I so often have people tell me they love my accent and listening to me speak. It’s funny as my husband, kids and long term friends cannot even hear an accent anymore!
The natural beauty of Sydney and Australia is something that I love and I find the people have a good attitude to life, relaxation and fun. I also love the rules and the organisation of Australia, it works for me. There seems to be a great affinity between the Australians and the Irish here and we have many friends in an Irish/Aussie marriage. One of the things I really appreciate about Australia is that it is so welcoming to new people who want to fit in, and there is plenty of opportunity to do well here, if you are prepared to work hard and play fair. Australia gets a lot of bad press in terms of strict immigration policies (and I do not agree with some of those) however, once you are a resident people are very welcoming and there are very few barriers in the way of achieving your goals. There are lots of young Irish kids working here and it is something that I love to see and hear. I feel kind of protective of them and want to mother them when I get a chance. The press will always focus on their drinking… but the young Australians are drinking just as much, if not more. There is a huge youth drinking problem here… probably everywhere. The young Irish mostly have a great reputation in the workplace for hard work. They are smart and well educated generally, and they are well liked – they fit in. I have always worked as an engineer and opened my own practice in 2006. The engineering firm I worked for over many years still actively recruits Irish graduates.
Three of my siblings still live in Galway, as do both of my parents. My Mam comes to visit for a month every January and my sisters are starting to come to visit me more often as their kids are getting older, they find it is a great rest and relaxation to visit now. I will always miss my family and friends and wish I had even one sibling living here. I also miss Christmas in Ireland (apart from the weather) as it really is very special. I miss the quaint little pubs and easy access to great and affordable theatre – this is something that I think is under appreciated back home. Galway is a beautiful city and I wish it was not thirty hours of travel time to get there. I possibly won’t ever return to live in Galway, but I get back every year or every second year. The last ten years have gone by so fast and life is busy, but fulfilling. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunities I have been given by being born in Galway.