Editor’s note: Thanksgiving is a time when many people remember the early days of this country and those who arrived to make new lives here.
Today, we continue our holiday series and share a profile of a local immigrant who came to this country and what she found:
NEWBURYPORT — Historical lore from past generations suggests that immigrants from Ireland came to the United States to flee famine or unemployment, but Aine Greaney recalls that she was fully employed and had access to a warm, comfortable hearth when she decided to wander here.
“I was a teacher in a parochial school and could have held that position for a long time,” said Greaney, a native of County Mayo. “My family was there.
“But I was a voracious reader and perhaps because of that, I had my eye over the border. I thought there were other opportunities out there. I decided to find out.”
Greaney, today a director of communications for Lahey Health Behavioral Services, crossed the pond in 1986 to live in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
She was 24, and arrived with $200. But a strong spirit counts for a lot when traveling, and she was able to stay with friends, work in the restaurant industry and get used to her new country,
“Most immigrants don’t realize how big the U.S. is,” she said with a smile. “You arrive and think you can just hop to New Orleans or San Francisco, but you realize that it takes money and travel time to see the whole country.
“Also, newcomers who know the U.S. only through Hollywood pictures realize it’s so much different.”
Greaney was one of five children; her other four siblings have stayed. Her parents visited here but did not consider uprooting.
“I’ve thought about why I came and my siblings didn’t,” said Greaney, who speaks with but a slight accent. “By the time I left, three had married and bought houses, so they had found their own ‘homes.’
“Also, it was harder for women there in the mid-’80s. I was looking for opportunity.”
She said that the ’80s in Ireland was a time when there was no separation of church and state. This situation made it difficult for women to divorce or have health options relating to family planning.
Once here, Greaney landed on her feet. Not only did she find a place for herself in upstate New York. She met a mate and married him: Ken Ellrott, now a senior appraiser for an insurance company.
The couple lived in Vermont and in Albany, N.Y., in the early years of their marriage. After several vacations to the New England coast, they moved to Essex County.
This appears to be home.
“Newburyport is very welcoming,” said Greaney, who with Ken moved here in 1998. “I remember going to the library and everyone there was helpful, and seemed pleased to have me there.
“The arts and writing community here is strong; people try to help each other.”
One of Greaney’s goals was to develop as a writer, and that goal is being reached.
She has authored several books, including “The Big House” (Simon & Schuster), “Dance Lessons,” (Syracuse University Press) and “Writer with a Day Job,” Writers Digest Books.
And Greaney has published numerous articles and essays.
Much of her current writing is about her experience of leaving her native land for the States.
One of her recent essays, “Green Card,” was published in the journal of Southern New Hampshire University and was named a “notable” selection in this year’s Best American Essays 2013.
Her current book in progress is “What Brought You Here: Leaving My Own Country to Find My Own Life.” She is seeking a publisher as she works.
Greaney said that it would be difficult to return to the old country now.
“There have been great opportunities here, especially in the publishing world,” said the writer, who is currently seeking citizenship here. “It’s a competitive field but it’s large, and I’ve enjoyed living here because there are many writers here, in Boston, in Newburyport, in southern New Hampshire.
“When I have returned to Ireland as an ex-pat, the changes in my own country made it almost unrecognizable and it often felt like I was visiting or vacationing in a new country.
“Now, however, Ireland is back in a deep recession and the current immigration numbers are outpacing those of the ’80s.”