I was born and raised in Cork city, Ireland, the third of four daughters. In June 1997, my parents sent me to Barbados with my oldest sister, a gift for my 21st birthday.
This is where I met a 19-year-old Canadian guy from Winnipeg. We spent two days together. Little did I know how much travelling I would do in the coming years.
I visited Winnipeg for two weeks in August, and he visited Cork for two weeks in December. The following March, I moved to Winnipeg.
At the time, it was a huge adventure. I got a job with a local textile company and received my permanent resident status in December 1998.
In June 1999, we were married, with parents, three sisters, a niece, two nephews, my aunt and two cousins there beside me. Everything was great. In June 2000, our first daughter was born. I was very lonesome for home and desperately missed my family, so we sold our house, packed our bags and moved to Cork in September.
My husband was very excited to move. He had no hesitations. It was his turn to have an adventure, and I was just happy to be home. There was no shortage of work in Ireland at this time; my husband started work the day after we arrived. And so began the next chapter.
It was wonderful to be home. It's strange but true, the air smells different at home, almost fresher. We bought a 100-year-old cottage in the countryside and set to work renovating it with my dad, who put in as many hours as we did.
In November 2001, our son was born, and in March 2004, we had another daughter. During this time, Ireland was experiencing what was called "the Celtic tiger."
My husband worked as a mechanic for a construction machinery company. The property boom was in full swing at this point, and he had so much work there weren't enough hours in the day to do it all. He was (and still is) very good at his job and often worked 12 to 14 hour days.
During my third pregnancy, I went back to school and did my ECE II to become a preschool teacher.
We came to a crossroads in our lives and decided to move back to Winnipeg after six years of calling Ireland our home. My parents and family, though heartbroken, supported us.
We sold our home, this time shipped our belongings, packed our bags once again and moved back to Winnipeg. My husband started work, we bought a house and got the kids all settled in their new French immersion school.
We were very lucky to have sold our house and left when we did. We had no idea what was ahead for the Irish economy. Within months of returning to Canada, the "Celtic tiger" began to collapse very quickly.
Now the people of Ireland are experiencing record-high unemployment.
In the months that followed, my husband and I separated. I started work with an old friend as a cook at an inner-city school. I loved working there. It was a lot of fun and a real eye-opener. I met some very special people there who have become a huge part of my life.
In a short time, my old friend and I became romantically involved and became serious very quickly. He has hugely influenced who I am today. I truly believe we are soulmates. He and I were married. My ex-husband also has remarried, and we have remained good friends.
I successfully ran a licenced home daycare for five years. During this time, we've been blessed with two more sons. Recently we moved outside the city. Now that we are a family of seven, we thought it was time to move to a larger home with a bigger yard for the children to play in.
I now work a couple of evening shifts at the Irish Association of Manitoba. I really enjoy working there -- it's my little connection with home, a place to tell my stories and hear from others.
My parents will be visiting shortly from Ireland. They will stay with us for three weeks. I am lucky to have them visit once, sometimes twice, a year. Sometimes one of my sisters will visit with my niece or one of my nephews. The excitement in our home is so great with the countdown to their visits, but they eventually have to go home. The goodbyes are heartbreaking and tearful, but this is all part of this life we have chosen.
I want my children to grow up here. The lifestyle is so different. I wouldn't say better or worse, just different. That said, this is the life I want for them. Ireland will always be home to me, but for my children, this is their home now.
Ann Marie Cullinane lives with her family in Île-des-Chênes.