Miriam O’Brien Interview

Loretto: Where did you go after our graduation from UCG in
1991?

Miriam: After we graduated I think we went to the college
bar! (Laughs)

Loretto: You and Me! We did yeah!

Miriam: The college bar, but after that? Am? When did we
graduate, in ’91? Oh I’m sorry, where did we go to, when did I leave Ireland?

Loretto: Did you leave Ireland after that?

Miriam: Yes I did.

Loretto: So where did you go?

Miriam: Where did I go? I went straight to London.

Loretto: OK. So why did you choose London?

Miriam: Well, because I had been there before for a summer
job.

Loretto: OK. So you were familiar with it?

Miriam: Yes, and it was quite close to home and it was
relatively cheap to get there so, I had gone there for a couple of summers during
our college years, so it was just a boat trip back and I was familiar with it.

Loretto: OK. What were conditions in Ireland like
when you were leaving?

Miriam: You know it’s funny. I was thinking about what you
were going to actually ask me on this interview and I suppose one of the
questions was why did I leave Ireland? And I suppose if I was to be honest
about it, the technical answer would be because the economy went through a
slump and there was like no jobs. But then I was thinking about it again and
that’s actually not answer for me. If I am actually really honest about it, I
left Ireland because I really wanted to go and travel. And yes, probably the
economy had an impact on my decision to leave, where as if there was loads of
jobs in Ireland and I got what was defined then as a good job then, I probably
would have got a good job, stayed, worked in it for a couple of years, and then
maybe decided to travel. Because I suppose there was no option to go into a
good job straight from College, I wanted to travel and therefore for me, I don’t
hold any sort of animosity against why I left Ireland and remember the conditions
being so bad, I do remember them being bad but I don’t remember that being my
criteria for leaving. I really just wanted to go, get out and see the world
after spending, what, six years in school, studying for my leaving cert and
then spending four years or whatever trying to get through college, I was quite
young. So to be honest with you really that is why I left Ireland.

Loretto: So the next question might be redundant. Was it
emotional for you to leave then?

Miriam: No. To be honest with you I had the support of my
parents. My Mum would always say go and travel, it’s probably the best thing
you could ever do, and go and see the place. So whenever I left Ireland for summers,
I never saw it as ‘Oh I am never returning again. I am leaving Ireland never to
be seen again.’ Sort of, this is something that I chose to do with my life especially
in my twenties I suppose. It became something so natural in my life, so no. I
didn’t am? I wasn’t forced out, so.

Loretto: Were conditions better or worse for you in your new
country?

Miriam: Conditions were different because I was working.
When I was in Ireland I never worked therefore I was always relying either on
my parents or as I say a summer job or on money for college, we worked in the
evenings, I worked during the summers. So when I went to London I was working
full time, so I didn’t have really, any responsibilities so therefore
conditions of course were better because all I required at the time was a
paycheck, so conditions would have been better, but was saying ‘Oh I am going
to be in this job for the next twenty years,’ for me it was just a means to
move on to somewhere else.

Loretto: Right. How long were you in London Miriam?

Miriam: I have been…you know it’s funny I was thinking about
this, where have I been since I left Ireland? I was in London for three years
and then I moved on and I came to New York in 1994

Loretto: So you came to America in 1994. Why did you choose
to come to America in 1994, why did you not stay in London?

Miriam: The reason I stayed in London was because it was
nearer and ….

Loretto: But why did you not stay there?

Miriam: A friend of mine had been, had travelled to New York
and had been illegal here for a few years and then got a visa and came to visit
me while in London. And she was like, I just sort of didn’t know where my big next
step was, sort of, to go, and I was in a job in London anyway and am? I just
thought maybe it would be fun to go try America out. I had no intention ever of
coming to New York but at the same time I thought, well if I get a visa, sure
it was free to apply, you just had to send in your post card and I happened to
be one of those lucky ones which I found out a few years later, to get one of
the Morrison Visas.

Loretto: So you had actually won a Morrison Visa then?

Miriam: Yeah.

Loretto: When you left Ireland did you intend to go back at
some point and live there or were you intent on emigrating for good?

Miriam: I had no intent of leaving Ireland for good, nor do
I still do. When I was leaving Ireland I was leaving just to go find and see
the world and see what was going on. I always go home. I always go back home to
visit. I go home, I still want to go home. I don’t ever see myself as having
fully emigrated in my mind, whether I have done so outside of myself but I
still see myself going back home.

Loretto: So that would be my next question, will you ever go
back to live in Ireland? So I guess I’ll change it. When do you think you will
go back to live in Ireland?

Miriam: When they revolt. (Laughs) And finally the Irish
people might stand up for themselves like maybe the Egyptians or the New Yorkers
are and fight with the government that has robbed them for the last ten years.
Then maybe I’ll be able to go back, but……to be honest with you…

Loretto: But sure go back and become the Prime Minister.

Miriam: (Laughs) No, I’ll get Anne to do that. I could do it
and she could write the speeches!

Loretto: But sure I’ll write the speeches!

Miriam: You’ll write the speeches! (Laughs) There you go,
yes and Anne could be my legal spokesperson, or Pauline could! No. The
corruption that has gone on in Ireland and what I’ve seen has not deterred me
from wanting to go back there and I think the reason I want to go back there is
because I have never lived or worked in Ireland by choice. I was raised there,
went to school there  and I was educated
there and left. My family is still there. Now, I don’t have this romantic
notion of Ireland, like, Oh we’ll go back there and live in the green fields and
that. I do know that there is a bad economy, the climate is pretty bad and the
country has just been destroyed by greed. But for me, the country, it’s not about
that. It’s something engrained in me about the place. I don’t know why I know
that but that, I do believe I wasn’t driven out. I left Ireland by choice and
now I think for me the next move will be the biggest adventure, trying to go
back and fit in.

Loretto: Yeah. So would you say that emigration has been
beneficial for you Miriam?

Miriam: Am? I have never look at myself as being an emigrant
but I guess I am I suppose virtually about, but, yeah. Absolutely. I think if I
had a good job back in Ireland after college, I think if it had been available
at the time I think I may have stayed and worked and got caught up in what
life, circumstances throw at you. I am glad that I left. I have been to, I was
able to travel to numerous countries, worked in numerous countries and as such,
I have been in New York now for the last nearly twenty years and I think from
being in different countries and working with different people, different races
and cultures has made me more of a rounded person, more free thinking. But
having said that, I think people would say well why then would you want to go
back to Ireland? I am Irish, that’s where I was born and I, that’s where I want
to raise my family and that’s where I want to stay, to live for the next twenty
years, if possible.

Loretto: Yeah. Now you’ve also been to, you’ve worked in
Australia for a little bit too?

Miriam: Yes.

Loretto: Was that a different experience than from America
and England?

Miriam: Yes, because I didn’t have a visa and I was working purely
as chopped liver, (Laughs)  and I took
some time out from New York I was going through a period in my life where I
needed to and Trish was there and we just got caught up, reconnected. You know
I got to see a part of a country that I may have never been exposed to, I am so
glad that I did now. And am, I was sort of glad that I was here in New York,
that I changed, that I didn’t go to Australia first from Ireland, because I
believe that it is very far away from home and I may have ended up there not by
choice but by circumstance. And purely because of proximity I am so glad that I
am in New York and not Australia. And it only has to do with a distance from
Ireland, that is the only reason.

Loretto: Yeah. Now do you think you would have had as many opportunities
open to you in Ireland if you had stayed there?

Miriam: I think what I would have had to do, if I was staying
in Ireland, I would had had to take, or get my dad to get a bank loan and I
would had had to just go and suck it up and become a teacher, get more
education, or go do that business course that they were offering which would
have cost me five thousand pounds at the time or something and I didn’t have
the cash to do that. And I wasn’t going to ask my parents to do that after they
put me through college. So I though by travelling for a couple of years, I
could sort of figure out what I wanted to do because I did not know what I wanted
to do so that was I think ultimately the, if I wanted to be a teacher or a
nurse then ultimately I think I probably would have stayed, gotten a job, and
either be going back if I had travelled or if I had stayed … I don’t know. I
suppose with everything that happened in the last ten years you’d think if you
were there you hoped that you would have made a wise decision and not got
caught up in the greediness that started. I don’t know.

Loretto: What advice would you give young emigrants leaving
Ireland today?

Miriam: From a practical point of view, get informed about
what you need to, which country you want to go to which the lifestyle that you
are looking for, how much money you may need when you get there, get a budget
to set up for a place, find someone that you know, or if you have no body, say
if you are going to Canada and you have nobody there, then get as much
information as you can and just stay safe. Am, I am not going to repeat the
experiences that I went through am, when we went money was always a factor but
am? Looking at countries based on emigration right now, I see a lot of people
trying to move to Australia but moving to a country doesn’t necessarily solve
all your financial problems either. I feel that, from reading newspapers, that
people are moving because there’s no work in Ireland, that if they go to
declare bankruptcy or give up their house in Ireland that they will go to
Australia, find the ultimate dream job, work or find a normal job and that this
will solve everything. That there is more to it than just getting a job, you
have to consider if you are on your own, it would probably be easier to make
the choices, but if you have a family you are immigrating with your husband,
your wife, your partner and your children, there’s a lot to consider. There’s
the school system, education system. I would just sort of make an informed
decision based on your age. If you are in your twenties I would say ‘hey if you
are thinking about it, go for it and have fun. Don’t look on it as you are
going to be exiled from Ireland for the rest of your life, you can always go
back home. Things will change, economies do turn around, it may take a few
years. You know I am looking to move back now, it is probably the worst time in
the economy but I have five years to do that and….I just. Have fun as well,
travel I think is the best education and the best university there is in life
and you get to meet so many people. I say go for it.

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