Irish women in Australia have found a new network of support through the work of one Dublin-born mother.
After a decade living in Australia, having made the move at 24, Sarah Whelan returned to Ireland for less than two years before deciding to journey back to Sydney, which she realised had become her home.
When the certified transitional life coach touched down she began to share her experiences of leaving and returning online, and expat Irish women flocked to her blog.
“People were really identifying with the things I was feeling,” Ms Whelan said.
“Women identified with the emotional impact…the guilt in leaving family behind.”
Ms Whelan was inspired to create Irish Women Abroad, an online support network to meet growing demand for answers and advice.
More than 3,000 network members, the majority of whom are Irish-Australian, provide everything from a shoulder to lean on to suggestions regarding every challenging aspect of emigration, from leaving relatives to transporting pets.
It was not long before the community moved off the internet and into the real world.
A recent Sydney meet-up was opened by the Irish Consulate in Sydney’s Vice Consul Rory Conaty, with the Consulate’s funding helping Ms Whelan - whose work with the network is voluntary - to organise events.
The Sydney Irish mission has provided support to Irish Women Abroad since its team members discovered Ms Whelan’s blog.
Award-winning Irish poet Anne Casey has recently joined the network after 25 years in Australia, saying she immediately saw the potential for members to bond over shared emigration experiences.
“It’s the empty chairs at birthday parties…it’s the call in the middle of the night when a family member has died.
“You don’t have to explain anything.”
The next meet-up will be held in Melbourne in November, and with an event already planned for returning expats in Ireland, there could be opportunities for further international expansion.
Ms Whelan hopes the “safe spaces” she has created continue to help women find their feet wherever they decide to resettle.
“My vision is for people to feel connected in their experiences…there’s no right or wrong way to feel.”