Ciara Kenny

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Emigrant friends compare lives around the world on Facebook

Alan Keane has watched his friends leave Ireland one by one since they graduated from the University of Limerick last year. Now scattered across Europe, Canada, Asia and the Middle East, they keep in touch on Facebook and compare how different their new homes are.

Tue, Mar 20, 2012, 11:09


Alan Keane has watched his friends leave Ireland one by one since they graduated from the University of Limerick last year. Now scattered across Europe, Canada, Asia and the Middle East, they keep in touch on Facebook and compare how different their new homes are.

Michael Considine on holiday in Thailand during Korean School Holidays

Click. The door closes behind Michael Considine. Long day ahead. Teaching English to teenagers. He won’t be home for hours. In truth, he won’t be home for a few years. Home proper is a small parish outside Kilkee, Co. Clare. Home now is a one bedroom apartment in Daegu, South Korea.

Approximately 10,000 miles away, another door closes. Louise O’Sullivan has just travelled the 8km from Cork city to Blarney. She’s tired. Tired from a day’s work, a day where she answers phones repeatedly. “Hello, ******’s office, how can I help you?” This was not what she saw herself doing after graduating from the University of Limerick. Six weeks after graduation, she travelled to London in search of work. Six weeks later, she was home. Things just didn’t work out as she’d hoped. She cried on the plane back. That’s the past. Right now in Blarney, she opens her laptop, and googles Thailand. Her new escape plan. May can’t come soon enough.

Manana manana (Do it tomorrow). The Spanish way of life suits Daithi Speakman. Easygoing. People always said of the Galway native that if he were anymore laidback he’d be horizontal. He doesn’t really think the recession has impacted that much on his plans, he always had the urge to travel after college. He has a job in Malaga in the meantime. Teaching in a school, improving his Spanish. Not for him long-term though. Dubai beckons.

Dubai is already home for Kathryn Harnett. One thing the recession has done is lessen her guilt for leaving Ireland. Like Daithi, she had planned on travelling after college either way. The way she looked at it, working tax free in Dubai was a good way of seeing the world while saving for the inevitable masters or unpaid internship that follows an Arts degree. Once a haven for the rich, Dubai is now just another in the growing number of places you’ll find Irish graduates teaching English to the locals. An all day drinking session isn’t something you’d see the natives indulging in, but there was a fair crowd in McGettigan’s Pub off the main drag on Saturday. It was St Patrick’s Day after all.

Kathryn Harnett with a friend in Dubai

For Mark Cunningham the St Patrick’s Day Parade is old news. He’s living in Toronto. The Canadian city held their celebration of everything Irish on Sunday last. Irish people shed their anonymity to line the streets and prop up the bars. Once the last dregs of the imported Guinness are drained however, it is back to being another face on the street. Toronto has a population the equivalent of the entire island of Ireland. If you befriend someone in a bar, chances are you may not bump into them again for months.

Ireland is no stranger to recessions. The stench of economic downturn prompts our youth to flee the island in search of work, or maybe just in search of respite from the inherent gloom. Mark cites three reasons for leaving: to gain life experience, for better job opportunities, and to leave the general malaise of the country behind. “There is so much doom and gloom in Ireland at the moment, The media is just full of stories about redundancies, layoffs and the like and I find all that extremely depressing.”

Once upon a time, in a depression long ago, the done thing was to go to England, go to America, maybe endure the long flight to Oz. Reasonably so, as it was easier to go somewhere they spoke the same language. This recession has seen a diversification of the Irish diaspora. Korea, Dubai. In the 1980s these were places that you’d see on the TV the odd time. Now they are where Ireland’s graduates go to teach and make some money. But with these countries being so different to Ireland, is culture shock inevitable?

Michael thinks that South Korea is becoming more westernized, but that doesn’t mean the transition from Ireland to the far side of Asia was easy. “Fast food places like Papa Johns, McDonalds and KFC are all here, but Korean’s are fiercely proud of their own food and their own produce and their own way of doing things. It’s very formal here at times, like when you meet someone older that must be acknowledged with a bow. So there are big differences in the way they do things here and how they do them in Ireland.”

Louise O'Sullivan in London

Dubai nowadays apparently has a lot more in common with Dublin than just its first three letters. “You can’t walk down a street in this country without bumping into an Irish person!” Kathryn says. “The Irish community really stick together as well, lots of GAA teams and tournaments all around the Middle East. It helps with the homesickness. I think my Irish accent has gotten worse since I came here!” she continues. She doesn’t understand misgivings about the Middle Eastern attitude to women. “It’s not one bit hard to be female here, and I live in a very conservative part of the country. The Arabs have a lot of respect for women which is misunderstood in the West.”

Has Skype and Facebook softened the blow of leaving home? Opinion is divided. Daithi would have left Ireland even if Mark Zuckerberg had never had his brainwave. “I thought briefly about ditching my Facebook account while I was here but honestly I’d never hear from people otherwise, it’s a huge part of who we are. But if it didn’t exist I still wouldn’t have had a second thought about moving.” Louise feels entirely differently; “Social media makes it easier to leave. Knowing I can communicate with family and friends is a huge reassurance. I would definitely not be as quick to leave if the likes of Skype and Facebook didn’t exist.”

Mark takes a more balanced approach. “It doesn’t make saying goodbye to your family at an airport any easier, not knowing when you’re going to see them again. That was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It does however make keeping in contact with friends and family a whole lot easier so having said that I think it is a hell of a lot easier to emigrate nowadays given the technology there is to keep in touch.”

Daithi Speakman in Spain

“Irishness” is inherent in traditional emigrant destinations such as America and England, but is it difficult to maintain a sense of where you came from in places like Korea? Michael is unsure. “It is and it isn’t. Like with Koreans, they don’t really have a preconception of Irish people so you are allowed to be whatever way you are really. Be that a stereotypical version of being Irish or the complete opposite of that.” That’s not to say however that the other nationalities currently residing in Korea don’t expect a certain type of Irish character. “We are expected to be good craic and to have a few beers and to generally be charming people. Apparently the accent helps. I don’t try to maintain “Irishness” per se, what does it even mean?”

While these young Irish are scattered to the four corners of the globe, they have one poignant thing in common. None plan on returning any time soon. All hope to eventually make a life for themselves in Ireland, but that’s a long way down the line. In Toronto, Mark is realistic. “I don’t see any change in job prospects happening in the next couple of years so all I can do is hope that when there is a turnaround in the economy my Canadian work experience will stand to me and make it easier to get a job if and when I return.”

Michael had planned to return once his one year contract was up in Korea, but that’s all changed. “In the near future I can’t see myself going back there, and by near future I mean the next three or four years. There is nothing there for me. There is barely anyone my age left in the country and as my mother said; ‘there will be a generation lost in Ireland, for a long time.’ That is a scary thought.”

It really is.

Alan Keane is a freelance journalist. He blogs at