Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Generation alienation

The opportunity for young people to make a life for themselves in Ireland has been whipped away like a poor table cloth trick which left everything smashed on the floor, writes Will Keena, who is seeking out a new life in Melbourne.

Mon, Mar 5, 2012, 09:54


The opportunity for young people to  make a life for themselves in Ireland has been whipped away like a poor table cloth trick which left everything smashed on the floor, writes Will Keena, who is seeking out a new life in Melbourne.

Will Keena in Melbourne

The first few weeks in Australia, as anywhere, are the hardest – the daunting settling in period, once you’re set up ‘you’ll be grand’ is what they say, on the streets and in the bars, riding the trams and in lazy hostel common areas. The Irish they are everywhere, dug in, on the lookout for a steadier gig, or a more lucrative job with the requisite visa extensions. They are scattered throughout different neighbourhoods, north and south of the Yarra river, in hipster enclaves off Brunswick street and backpacker strongholds in St. Kilda.

The people I’ve met range from the dewy eyed and fresh off the boat (like me), to the lifers, been here years and claim to own the place, least through projection of a knowing body language. The rest tend to be drifters, varying in age, taking a year out, taking a gamble, avoiding the reality of a cruel job market with a hard won degree which no longer opens the doors it used to.

So it’s Melbourne and it’s wonderful. The honeymoon period, much like the nourishing weather seems to be multi-faceted with a real chance of longevity. It’s a city that caters to your every want and need but doesn’t push its design on you or intimidate you with the muscular cityscape and brisk attitude of other metropolitan areas. The people are warm and friendly, food and drink and conversation is consumed outdoors with adequate amounts of shade. The arts are everywhere, all identities are recognised, different is the norm. Australia is booming, even the most casual of observers can get a sense of that upwardly mobile positivity. Prices are inflated but it has the salaries to match and in no time $10 beers and $19 cinema tickets become somewhat acceptable.

I’ve been here a month, bouncing from hostel to the generosity of some friends’ dwelling until I found myself back at the hostel again. Rent is high and I’m reluctant to commit to a place until I find employment. The job hunt is a daily undertaking, a painful grind at times,  but the constantly refreshed employment sites keep me motivated. People back home tend to be under the impression that you can step off a plane, tanned from your prior Asian excursion or rattled after a lean winter in Ireland and find that perfect career or vocation waiting for you patiently, like an attractive blind date with infinite potential. That is not the case, there is a wealth of opportunity here for those willing to seize it but it is extremely competitive and you need to be persistent and committed. That’s the challenge and it is duly accepted, nothing worth having comes easy and this city, like all others, doesn’t owe anyone a living.

I browse various media platforms to stay connected with home, watching Enda and the rest of the-eager-to-please-crew glad handing our European allowance givers with continued zeal.  I feel genuine sympathy for those in the struggle, left with no choice but to stay and face up to the relentlessness of mortgage and loan repayments, chasing broke creditors for money and putting up For Sale signs on beloved enterprises which bear the family name. I recognise how fortunate I am, asset and dependant free (a once frowned upon status) that I can up and leave with relative ease. When I Skype those I care about they express envy at my decision, they understand my yearning to carve something out for myself, to take advantage of skills that weren’t being utilised at home.

Reading ‘Generation Emigration’ I find myself at odds with the positions of many of the previous submissions. Myself and a lot of those I talk to about home are in no hurry back and some vow never to return. This is a sizeable group of Irish young people, college or trade skilled and ambitious, in their late twenties and early thirties who feel a jagged animosity about the circumstances forced upon them. We are exiles, some admittedly are voluntary but the opportunity to go home and make a life in Ireland has been whipped away like a poor table cloth trick which left everything smashed on the floor. This is my second time living abroad (I was previously in Toronto in 2009) my second time leaving the door open behind me. Aside from family and friends Ireland has very little to offer people like me and I think it’s important to recognise that and not get too lost in the fog of some romantic ideal that might not exist anymore. Of course people want to go home, they want to raise their families there and many feel a heavy melancholy being away from the place. I am not attacking their motivations or indeed their faith in the State’s recovery, far from it, I just feel compelled to offer a contrary opinion on the matter.

I get extremely angry when I think about the successive governments who have destroyed our home, one I still love and cherish. There is every chance that I won’t return for anything more than a holiday in the future, which is an unnerving prospect but one that had to be acknowledged. This might be cowardice on my part, not sticking it out or harnessing my specific talents in an attempt to aid our revival, but I can’t ignore my insecurity. The country, to me, has become an untrustworthy lover, beckoning me back to a cold, cheating bed where my heart was broken, telling me it would be different this time, that it’ll never happen again, that things have changed and we can look to the future…together. Maybe a stronger person would have stayed, and many in similar positions have and they are to be applauded, I chose the busy exit however. I had always imagined myself sharing a drink with my grown up kids in a country pub in years to come, the fire crackling and everyone cosy. Now my unborn progeny will most likely have different accents and I’ll forever be the foreigner.

Ireland is a country of broad culture and learning, one that has been a competitive and successful European partner until recently. Our immodesty and easygoing demeanour masks a reservoir of confidence in our own abilities which is why Irish people shine around the world in business, the performing arts and humanitarian efforts. We are special and we come from a special place, and we should be rightly proud…but those we trusted with our affairs traded that uniqueness for an extra car in everyone’s driveway. We were complicit, we allowed it to happen, and that contradicted a delicate moral and social structure we once valued so highly. As a result of which, many now both young and old, have to start again and find somewhere else to call home and it’s alright to be upset about that. It’s not unpatriotic to admit that some of us just can’t go through it all over again, one foot out the door, never safe, never fully at ease…because that’s not what a home is meant to feel like.