For many people living in Ireland, the main goal is to get out of Ireland. While that may seem harsh, look at the statistics. Approximately a third of all Irish-born people are currently living abroad and only a very small number of emigrants actually ever return to Ireland.
In the early 20th Century this was in part due to their lack of opportunities on the Aran Islands. Only one child (a male) would inherit a family home/business/farm and therefore the rest of the kids would have to marry onto land or leave.
Men and women would emigrate in nearly even numbers once they reached adulthood (which on the Islands would be anywhere from 14-20). On the Islands, poverty made it extremely difficult to emigrate to the United States, so most of those who emigrated left for Canada and Great Britain. Many Island immigrants in Great Britain made their way to Australia or New Zealand, but very few made it to America.
Billy’s story would have been rare and impressive around the islands not only for making it to America, but also for coming back.