The truth about Irish emigration: views from home and away
A major new survey of Irish emigration experiences reveals a stark contrast between the attitudes of Irish people at home and abroad
Photograph courtesy of Union of Students in Ireland
Since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, more than 200,000 Irish people have moved abroad. They are brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, highly qualified graduates, out-of-work labourers, farmers or IT technicians.
Some emigrate alone, and others with friends or a partner and children; many go for work purposes, while others are motivated by a desire for adventure. A lot of them are thriving in their new lives overseas, while others struggle to settle.
But none of these details are reflected in the annual migration figures from the Central Statistics Office, which tell us how many are leaving but little about their backgrounds or experiences after they go.
Over the past 12 months, a research team from University College Cork has been attempting to build a profile of the current generation of Irish emigrants. They have knocked on the doors of almost 2,500 houses across the country to ask whether anyone had emigrated in recent years, and what effect their departure has had on the family and community left behind.
An online survey was completed by more than 1,500 emigrants, 65 of whom were also interviewed in-depth over Skype to find out their reasons for leaving, the positives and negatives of their experience, their views on Irish affairs, and their intentions for the future.
The researchers say their 50,000-word report, to be published at an international conference on “austerity emigration” in UCC today, is “one of the most representative studies ever” of Irish emigration.
The findings reveal a stark contrast between the attitudes of Irish people at home about emigration, and the lived experience of the emigrants themselves.
“The question often arises: are they leaving because they want to or because they have to?” says the Emigre project leader Piaras MacÉinrí. “I’m not so sure that question has meaning any more. Even if you feel compelled to leave because the opportunities here are poor, you are still going to want to own that decision.
“When we asked the households where families had been left behind, nine in 10 said emigration was negative and had a bad effect on the family, the community, and Ireland as a whole.
“They also said their emigrant sons and daughters left because they had to. Emigrants themselves were more likely to say they left because they wanted to. They are determined to make the most of the experience and stay positive.”
The emigrants surveyed reported a much higher rate of full-time employment, greater job satisfaction, higher wages and improved job prospects abroad than they had at home (for more findings on the pre-departure circumstances of emigrants, see News), leading to an average quality of life rating of 7.9 out of 10, compared with just 5.5 before they left.
Many of those who participated in the Skype interviews said the experience of moving abroad had been an enlightening one, giving them a new perspective on the world and on Ireland from a distance.
More than half of all emigrants already know someone in their destination before moving there, while a similar number emigrate with at least one person they know. One in four have previous experience of living abroad.