Ciara Kenny

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

2023: Regeneration from emigration?

The Irish Times published a special supplement today envisioning what Ireland could look like in 2023. Ciara Kenny imagines a new series called ‘Regeneration from Emigration’, following the lives of Irish emigrants returning to the auld sod, reinvigorating the country in the process.

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 22:06


Back for the future as home fires burn deep

Ciara Kenny

The front page of The Irish Times 2023 supplement

With more than 50 Irish people coming back to live in Ireland every day last year and every indication that the trend is set to continue, there is no doubt that we are seeing return migration of the 2010s cohort on a scale similar to the return of the 1980s emigrants during the Celtic Tiger years. (The Irish Times will share their stories and experiences in a new series, Regeneration from Emigration.)

The exiles who departed in the late 2000s and early 2010s were a disparate bunch. Architects, engineers and project managers lined up alongside brickies and plumbers at the departure gates, for flights to take them to Canada or the Middle East where construction was still a booming industry.

Nurses and teachers left to escape the recruitment embargoes, consultants fled in the hope of higher salaries than the €116,000 on offer to them here, scientists went in search of research grants, and the young and carefree with itchy feet, who leave this island whether times or good or bad, took flight in the hope of slaking their curiosity about the world, chasing the adventure offered by the unknown.

While Ireland lamented the loss of its youngest and brightest, the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Canada opened their arrival gates welcomed these highly educated and highly skilled with open arms and an avaricious grin.

The young exiles found jobs, made new friends, and got over any heartache they may have felt at leaving the country of their birth. They enjoyed happier and healthier lifestyles than they had in Ireland, as an Irish Times survey found back in 2011, and went about making a new life for themselves in their new home away from home. They accepted their lot was better where they were, and got on with living.

They kept in touch with Ireland in a way no other generation of emigrants had been able to before. They Skyped their mammies, monitored Irish news online, and shared momentous events and frivolous thoughts on Facebook and Twitter. Through webcams and news feeds, they commented on nights out they missed, watched friends getting married and nieces or nephews take first steps. Ireland went on without them, but they were kept well informed of everything they were missing.

But for many of them, no matter how hard they tried, that new place never really became “home”. The fledglings, in their early 20s when they left, were maturing, and as life changing decisions about buying a house and raising kids came closer, the desire to go back to the country that raised them became something they could no longer ignore.

Green shoots of positivity began to appear in the mid 2010s, and as unemployment levels began to drop and the much anticipated economic recovery gathered pace, the cohort once bemoaned as a “lost generation” began to trickle back.

Having lived away through the worst of the recession, they are not as blighted by pessimism as many of those who stayed behind and were surrounded by the pervasive negativity of those years. They are coming back with a renewed appreciation for the country, fresh ideas about how things can be done differently, and an enterprising spirit determined to make Ireland a place where their own futures can be bright.

Similar to the 1980s emigrants who came back during the Celtic Tiger, they earn higher wages than their peers who stayed behind and toughed out the recession. They are perceived by employers as determined and proactive individuals whose foreign experience has enhanced their knowledge and skillset. More importantly, the majority don’t have the gaps that blight the CVs of many of those who stayed behind and had to endure periods of unemployment here before the jobs market improved.

Many of those who left in the last 15 years with every intention to come home when job prospects improved have made happy lives abroad and won’t ever come back to live here again. They have forged new careers, started businesses, developed friendships and relationships and begun to raise families which have rooted them in their adoptive homes.

But, of course, as 2023 begins, there are still thousands of young people preparing to emigrate this year. The motivations that drive them are not born out of necessity, but a desire to experience the world and the life and work opportunities it has to offer that Ireland still can’t provide.

What the returnees are hoping is that when their own children come of age in the next decade or two, Ireland will still be a place where emigrants can leave by choice, not economic exigency.

Ellen Murphy (34)

When the New South Wales Health Service came to recruit nurses at a Dublin jobs fair in 2012, graduate midwife Ellen Murphy jumped at the opportunity. Australia promised higher wages, better promotional opportunities and sunnier skies, so she decided to give it a go for a year but ended up staying a decade.

Last summer, she and her husband Noel Daly (36), a construction manager from Cork whom she met in an Irish bar in Perth six years ago, decided to return to live in Dublin with their two children Liam (4) and Kate (2).

“It was hard leaving the Perth lifestyle behind, but we always talked about moving back to Ireland and when the kids came along, being so far from our own parents became much harder,” she says.

“Property prices were going up and up so we just had to go for it before it became unaffordable. Liam will be starting primary school this year so we wanted to come back before then so the move didn’t unsettle him too much.”

Murphy is now ward manager in a Dublin maternity hospital, and Daly is managing the construction of the new Liberty Hall, which will be Ireland’s tallest building when it is finally completed next year.

“The kids miss the sunshine, but it is great to have our family and old friends around,” Murphy says. “Life back in Ireland is great.”