Ciara Kenny

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

‘The longer people stay away, the less likely they are to return’

The exodus has had a life-changing effect on those leaving, but also on those left behind, writes CIARA KENNY

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 15:20


The exodus has had a life-changing effect on those leaving, but also on those left behind, writes CIARA KENNY 

Thomas Clohosey: "There’s no way I would have had this opportunity if I had stayed"

THOMAS CLOHOSEY (23) watched his friends leave their home town of Templemore, Co Tipperary, one by one over the past three years in search of work. Some went to Dublin, but most boarded a flight to London or Australia.

He had doubts about his own future in Ireland long before he graduated this year. While studying for a degree in construction management, he had to go abroad for the last three summers to make money to support himself through the rest of the college year. “I had nothing going for me in Ireland. There’s no work in my trade, or even in a shop or pub,” he says. “I came back home for a month after spending the summer in Italy, and I was bored out of my mind. There were no young people left.”

When he heard Canada was on the verge of a construction boom, the decision on where to go was easy. Within two days of landing in Vancouver earlier this month, he had found work as a purchasing agent for a construction firm.

“I have no experience but with this job I’ve jumped a few rungs of the ladder already. In Ireland, the people from my course are on the dole or doing internships, but I’ve got a really good job and am getting well paid for it. Why wouldn’t I do it? There’s no way I would have had this opportunity if I had stayed.”

Figures published by the Central Statistics Office yesterday show that 35,800 young people emigrated from Ireland in the year to April, an increase of 1,300 on the previous year and more than twice the 2006 number.

Michael Noonan’s argument in January that emigration was a “lifestyle choice” for young people is contradicted by these figures.

For many young people the opportunity to live and work abroad, even if it is thrust upon them through a lack of prospects in Ireland, is a welcome opportunity for adventure and new experiences.

Most young people who have contributed to The Irish Times’s Generation Emigration forum for the Irish abroad are happy to be away from Ireland at the moment. While some express anger at being “forced” out because of unemployment or poor prospects, most, like Clohosey, are at least glad the option is there to travel or work elsewhere.

The majority of emigrants aged under 25 surveyed by Ipsos/MRBI for The Irish Times in March reported being happier than they had been in Ireland, with better jobs, a healthier lifestyle and an ability to save money. One in three were unemployed before they left, but nine in 10 were working abroad when the survey was conducted. Some 86 per cent of those who had found a job said it was on a par with or better than the one they had had in Ireland.

The big question most face now is whether they will come back. They left with the intention of riding out the recession abroad and returning when it was all over – but will things improve enough before they have settled and made new homes elsewhere?

About half of the 500,000 people who emigrated during the 1980s and early 1990s came back, says Piaras Mac Éinrí, lecturer in migration studies in University College Cork. The circumstances were optimal in the boom years for return migration, however, but this generation of young emigrants might not be so lucky.

“The longer people stay away, the less likely they are to come back,” he says. “If you put down professional, social and familial roots in another country and you reach your 30s or beyond, the chances of returning to where you came from are much less.”

Fiona Sneyd: "The next few years are key for my generation"

Fiona Sneyd (26), who has been working in marketing in London for the past two years, agrees. She would like to come back but says she won’t be happy to do so if it meant taking a step backwards in terms of her lifestyle and career.

“If things haven’t improved in Ireland by the time we hit 30, we’re going to start getting married and having kids, and it will be much more difficult. The next few years are key for my generation.”

Among others hoping this generation of emigrants will return are their friends left behind. The number of 19- to 24-year-olds living in Ireland fell by more than a tenth between 2006 and 2011, according to census data. While changing birth rates is cited as the main reason for the decrease, emigration has also been a significant factor.

Rural areas are particularly affected, with GAA clubs across the country reporting huge losses of young players, but the impact is felt across all social groups.

“There isn’t a group of friends in Ireland who hasn’t waved goodbye to at least one of their friends, and it is hard for those who are left behind,” says Clare Herbert (24), a freelance communications consultant living in Dublin. “Of my old school and college friends, about 60 per cent are gone. If I left, I know I would be earning more money, have greater job security and be enjoying better weather. But I have been educated here, my family is here, and I really want to stay. I think there is a responsibility on young people to stay behind if they can, to be part of a solution to whatever is coming next for Ireland.”

Mixed emotions: Reluctant emigrants


Katie Harrington: "We don’t talk about 'when' we will go home any more, but 'if'"

SOCIAL MEDIA is of our generation and we’re happy to claim it. The internet allows us to believe we’re maintaining relationships with those back home, or, more often, those who have emigrated to different countries.

We “like” each other’s photos on Facebook, post videos of songs that remind us of each other, and talk on Skype if time differences permit . It doesn’t come close to sitting together for tea or a pint, but it’s the best we can manage.

It doesn’t feel like it on lonely days, but we are the lucky ones. We have more opportunity, more money, better weather. We’re developing careers and contribute to economies, just not in Ireland.

We patiently explain the difference between the Republic and Northern Ireland to new friends in host countries. They jest about Ireland’s economic situation and we laugh along with them because what else can we do?

The last 12 months have been a blur. I left a teaching job in Abu Dhabi to pursue a media career in the UK. I failed, ran out of money, gave up and started a career in recruitment. Needs must.

Six months later the call came – a journalism job back in Dubai. I’m off to the fifth city I’ve lived in in three countries since graduating from the University of Limerick in 2009. I’m excited, yet for some reason I’ve spent much of the last few days crying.

The uncertainty is overwhelming. We don’t talk about “when” we will go home any more, but “if”. We wonder whether we’ll get time off work to see our families at Christmas, and, if we do, will we be able to afford it?

Christmas is the one time of year we all make the effort to get home. The 25th is for family but St Stephen’s night is for friends. We’ll laugh about the old days, exchange details of our lives abroad, gossip about mutual friends and wonder about the future.

We’ll smile as we hug and say goodbye, but it gets harder every time and it is bittersweet.

This article appears in The Irish Times today as part of this week’s Generation Next series on young people in Ireland.

Record high of 87,000 left State in year to April