While narratives about waves of emigration often focus on those working in specific professions such as nursing, teaching and construction, this new wave of post-pandemic migration out of Ireland seems to be disproportionately impacting young artists and creatives.
The primary cause of this creative brain-drain is the soaring cost of living, which affects people on lower incomes and freelance creatives who work project to project. Simultaneously, the creative infrastructure needed to enable artists, including affordable housing in Irish cities, studio spaces, performance venues, fringe culture and nightlife, has been gradually eroded by corporate gentrification.
Here, creatives who have recently moved from Ireland to four different cities share their reasons for leaving.
Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, Berlin
Film and television director, screenwriter and producer
I had come to a point in my career where I needed to stop working so much on other jobs and focus on my own craft, and that takes time. That just wasn’t possible to do in Ireland and keep low overheads. My partner is a musician, and we both wanted to move somewhere we could develop our careers and artistry as creatives while keeping living costs low. We were also just tired of a lack of security, and bleeding money. We wanted to go somewhere that inspired us, and Berlin was a natural fit. We moved here in 2021. We miss our friends, family and peers in Dublin, but a lot of Irish friends were living here already or are now moving. The community of Irish people is growing by the day, so you never feel too far away from home.
The housing crisis is a scandal, quite frankly. It’s no picnic in Berlin either, but the standard of what is acceptable in Ireland is in the gutter comparably. Here, we have an apartment with reasonable rent, an indefinite lease and a rent cap, and we don’t run ourselves into the ground paying for it. It’s comforting to have that security for the first time.
It’s shocking to witness the housing crisis in Ireland worsen by the month. The Government has failed its people. My friends in Germany are shocked when I talk about it, especially the number of homeless people.
You can get trapped in your own way of thinking in Ireland, which I slip back into whenever I go home. Getting out and away from it changes your point of view completely; you have a new perspective on your work, your daily routine is different, but on a practical level, you have more time to develop your craft because you don’t have to work so hard to pay rent. And you get better as an artist. As a result, I’m more confident in the work I’ve been creating here.
Ross Carvill, New York
Illustrator and artist
I am an illustrator working in all areas from editorial to fashion; I am always experimenting with new mediums. I moved to New York last June, and am now living in Brooklyn. I left to expand my illustration client list; I have seen what other creative friends have achieved in New York City, so I wanted to take my own bite out of the creative apple. After Covid restrictions lifted, it felt like the time to make a big change. I have never lived anywhere but Ireland, so I thought I should try it out while I had the chance.
I have been going to lots of creative meet-ups here, from life drawing to outdoor sketching groups to casual drink-and-draws, in an effort to meet like-minded creative people. Moving to such a big city, I did not know how I was going to make these connections, but from attending lots of creative events and putting myself out there as much as possible, I have.
Recently I have experienced a mass migration of creative friends, to London, Glasgow, New York and beyond. It is sad when a chunk of the rich creative community in Ireland leaves but, unfortunately, it often makes sense for the individual. Seeing how one can progress in a place like New York through friends who previously emigrated made me excited. I wanted some of the action.
Ireland is the most beautiful place in the world, where creativity flourishes. My heart is there, but my brain is not currently. I think this is how a lot of creative people feel. I had been doing the same thing for years, working part-time in the service industry and part-time as an artist. I had made progress, but I felt stagnant. I was no closer to financial stability, no closer to comfortably living independently, and no closer to the opportunities I had been searching for professionally. I am hoping that living in a bigger city will provide these things.
Moving has made me reassess lots of things. I am from a rural part of Dublin, so coming to a huge city with lots of loud noises took some getting used to. It has been exciting mentally, culturally, physically, creatively. I have found inspiration again in the day-to-day, which has always been a huge part of my creative process. I had been struggling with this recently in Ireland.
I am still doing what I was doing at home, supplementing my income by working in the service industry. But I have relit the creative fire underneath me.
Ciaran Gaffney, Amsterdam
Founder of storytelling night Seanoíche
I was living in New York, and I came back to Ireland during the pandemic. I was in Dublin for most of that and I decided to set up a storytelling night, called Seanchoíche. It’s a night for people from all corners of Dublin and beyond to come together and listen and tell engaging stories. I also work in marketing, so Seanchoíche is my side gig, but I really care about it. The event is so gorgeous, so atmospheric, and people in Dublin responded so well to it.
The decision to move from Dublin last year was really hard. I knew my quality of life would be miles better in Amsterdam. Knowing I had to say goodbye to Dublin made my relationship with the city more fraught, purely because the city wasn’t giving back to me or giving me the resources I needed. When I left Dublin, it was like this recognition that it’s not a city for people who want to progress in creative worlds. That feeling was toxic. I was bitter when I left.
People think oh you’ve a great job, but I was working really hard, crazy hours, and literally living pay cheque to pay cheque. I haven’t experienced that anywhere else I’ve lived. Dublin is so well-regarded in the corporate world, but that’s all bull when creative people aren’t taken care of in the city.
Amsterdam is an easy city to settle into. The minute you get here you feel that people are thriving. The salaries are better. The cost of living is a bit lower. Amsterdam is also dealing with a housing crisis, but it’s a much healthier pace of life. Public transport is excellent, and you can go everywhere by bike.
A lot of my core friend group work in creative areas, or have creative side gigs. I think only two are still living in Dublin. Most are gone or going. Others, if they are in Dublin, are living with their parents. I used to have five or six couches to sleep on in Dublin, now there’s one, and he’s moving to London next month.
I’m 100 per cent coming back to vote in the next general election. We need to reconsider who’s running our country.
Jack Scollard, London
Artist, photographer, publisher, designer
I graduated from NCAD in 2021. I didn’t have much of a plan. I was trying to figure out studio options but I was working in a service job, and I just had that moment early last year where I realised I was not where I wanted to be six months after graduating. I wanted to feel there was more to life. I decided to do a course in London, a bespoke tailoring course for six months, part-time. It felt low risk.
I couldn’t have anticipated how much my life would change by moving to London. I spent a long time wondering if I should stay in Dublin, and be part of a change to make things happen. It’s easy for things to get big quickly in Dublin. People are supportive. But it also felt like I was martyring myself to the city. It felt like an uphill battle.
The housing crisis was a big factor in my decision to leave. You feel like a child when you’re living at home with your parents
Dublin’s queer scene is relatively small and I wanted a more stimulating queer life. A lot of my interest, inspiration and source of vitality is in nightlife. Dublin’s nightlife has been so strangled by restrictions, licensing laws, the housing crisis, availability of spaces and just the general attitude.
The housing crisis was a big factor in my decision to leave. You feel like a child when you’re living at home with your parents. I felt like I was stuck at a much younger stage of life. London might be notorious for being expensive, but there are way more housing options. In Dublin there are literally no rooms available for rent. So whatever about the cost of London, it feels like it’s worth it. In Dublin, it never felt that there was enough of a pay-off in exchange for what is commanded for rent.
My situation is common. More creative people are leaving Dublin than there are coming in. The city is not enticing. The housing issue stagnates everything. Out of my close group of friends, most people have left, for Lisbon, Berlin, and a steady trickle to London. People feel disenfranchised. There were so many amazingly talented young creatives, artists and DJs in Dublin, but most people I know haven’t stayed. It’s melancholic. Most of us will never be in Dublin at the same time again.
But I’m happier now. I felt like I’d reached a glass ceiling in terms of creative opportunities. It didn’t feel like there were any more avenues to go down.