'I knew if we stayed in Ireland we would struggle for the rest of our lives'
More Irish people emigrated this year than in 2010. Why? We asked them
Katie Kiernan with her partner Shane and son Nathan in Canada: 'I knew if we stayed in Ireland, we would struggle for the rest of our lives.'
In the 12 months to April this year, 30,800 Irish people moved abroad. The figure is higher than the number that emigrated in 2010, when the recession was tightening its hold.
Unemployment is now at a nine-year low of 6.1 per cent, with full employment forecast to return by the end of next year. Prospects for jobseekers are, on paper at least, better than they have been for almost a decade.
New migration figures from the Central Statistics Office show the numbers of Irish leaving have been falling steadily as the economy has recovered, but they are still remarkably high in 2017, more than double the pre-crash figure of 15,300 from 2006.
So why are so many still emigrating?
Using a new story-sharing tool on irishtimes.com, we asked readers who had left the country since 2016 to share their reasons for going. Over the past two weeks, we’ve received dozens of contributions from emigrants living all over the world.
Some left to experience life in a new place, but a considerable number of others mention high living costs and poor job prospects, especially outside Dublin, and particularly for graduates, as factors that have pushed them overseas.
This is a selection of the responses we received.
Katie Kiernan, Alberta, Canada
I was 24 years old, living in a council estate with no college education, working a part-time job in retail, with a partner who was unemployed and a two-year-old son. I knew if we stayed in Ireland, we would struggle for the rest of our lives. Our son would grow up not knowing how much better life can and should be. We packed what little we had and left for Canada in 2016, where my parents have been living since 2012.
We began working within a week. We saved hard. Thirteen months after arriving in Sherwood Park, we signed the papers to buy our own home. It took exactly 13 months to go from a council house in Ireland, to being first time home owners across the world.
Canada provides more opportunities for us than Ireland ever will. The standard of living is above and beyond what we knew at home. Shane works as a tiler for the biggest flooring company in western Canada, and I work as an administrative assistant for a financing company. Our son is in Montessori full-time and is thriving.
We would love to go home and live to the same standard that we do here in Canada, but realistically that will probably never happen. Ireland will always be home, but Canada is where we will live for the foreseeable future.
Siobhan O’Brien, Zürich, Switzerland
In early 2017, I came to the end of a two-year postdoc research position in York. As a scientist, and an Irish emigrant, these short contracts wreak havoc with your sense of stability. You are never truly settled anywhere. This year was my sixth year living in the UK, and although I was grateful for the opportunities, I wasn’t ready to settle there. Conversely, a move to Dublin would have marked the end of my career path; funding scientific research doesn’t seem top of the agenda in Ireland.
After much deliberation, my English fiancé and I moved to Zürich for another two-year fellowship. This means my next decision is due in 2019, at the age of 31.
I would love to say Ireland will be on the cards for both of us then, but I don’t hold much hope. Emigrants will only return home if the benefits outweigh what they are leaving behind. At the minute, I am enjoying Zürich’s efficient infrastructure, emphasis on work-life balance and high standard of living.
Stephen Flynn, Paris, France
I started my new job the day I moved to Paris on my 23rd birthday. I was grateful to have found work that was challenging and interesting, promised advancement, and didn’t oscillate between five and 37 working hours a week.
Friends and colleagues here, most of them under 30, chat of their ambitions to have a place of their own. They are not rolling in money; but they know if they save up a reasonable deposit, they will stand a fair chance of owning their own home. In Ireland, this seemed like a pipe dream.
I am enthralled by this beautiful city. But I am also saddened that these steps I am taking in my career and my life are not in Dublin, my home. I would love to come back and make a life in Ireland. But when I think of the zero-hour contracts, the €1,000 shed rentals, and the Eighth Amendment, Paris seems a more promising location for now.
Niall Gavigan, Hong Kong
After four years teaching in Asia, I came back to Ireland in July to stake out the jobs market in Dublin, but it seems not a lot has changed. If you want to work in the Googles or Facebooks in Dublin then there are opportunities, but I found the job market to be very similar to when I left. So I live in Hong Kong now, and have a far higher standard of living than I would at home, with proper healthcare and low taxes. Hong Kong is fast-paced, expensive and high-rise, but it’s welcoming, diverse and bustling. It’s home.
Collette Brooks, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
I’m a primary-school teacher, and my husband is an accountant. We moved to Sharjah to save for a house. We both had jobs in Dublin but we wanted to save more in a shorter space of time. We got married in July and moved out here in August. We’re quite well settled now, but Adam is still searching for work. One of the best things about moving abroad is the guaranteed predictable weather; 20-degree heat on your walk to work is bliss.
Sorcha Coyle, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Unlike most emigrant teachers, I chose to move abroad. I count myself lucky, as many teachers feel forced to leave Ireland for professional and financial reasons. I worked in a British school in Qatar from 2011-2015, so I am familiar with the Gulf region, its culture, and its schools. I moved to a secondary school in Dubai in September 2016, where I teach Emirati students.
I came here for a range of reasons: the salary is tax-free and rent is paid, which is financially empowering (after four years there I was able to buy my four-bed house in Cavan), regular school breaks allow me to take three annual holidays overseas, I am meeting like-minded expats from all around the world, it is relatively close to Ireland (in comparison to Australia at least), and the ambitious “can-do” attitude gives you higher aspirations for yourself.
Dan Daly, Vancouver, Canada
My girlfriend and I both left our jobs in Dublin to come to Vancouver in April. We wanted to travel, and Vancouver offered opportunities to live and work in one of the world’s highest ranked cities for quality of life. Vancouverites have struck a work-life balance that should be the envy of Dublin. Actual observance of working hours and a better transport network mean I routinely return from work two hours earlier than I did at home.
There are drawbacks; Canadian companies offer significantly less annual leave, and renting and living costs are on par with Dublin. But the positives easily outweigh any shortcomings. It’s not hard to see what drew a large Irish contingent here, and why so many have stayed.
But Ireland is our home, and we will be moving back eventually. While family and friends are the driving force behind that decision, the current housing crisis in Ireland could end up dictating timelines.
Natasha Bambrick, Sarnia, Canada
I moved from Carlow to Ontario at the end of January. I was bored with life in Ireland after college, and wanted to see a bit of the world. I chose Sarnia as I have an aunt here and it looked really nice. By day I work as a mental health peer support worker, and in the evenings I am a hostess in an Irish pub called Paddy Flaherty’s.
My grandmother was buried the day before I left for Canada so it made it extra hard being away from family, but it’s not as bad now. The highs have been getting employed in great jobs, moving out on my own for the first time, buying my first Canadian motor, and meeting so many great people who are now my forever friends. I can’t see myself moving back to Ireland in the near future, as I plan to explore more of this beautiful country.
Aoife O’Toole, Edinburgh, Scotland
As I crossed the stage to collect my degree from Maynooth University in September 2016, I was gripped not by excitement for what the future held, but by fear. Four years of hard work and what did I have to show for it? An International Arts Degree, a hefty student loan, and zero job prospects. With no way to afford Dublin rents, my boyfriend Dan and I had to move in with his parents in Celbridge.
Life was not how I had imagined it. I was a part-time library assistant at the university, and Dan was waiting tables. I applied for countless jobs in Dublin and received countless rejections. We were broke. Something had to change.
Four months later, after scrimping and saving every penny we earned, we crossed the Irish Sea to Edinburgh. Our lives improved hugely. We have our own flat that’s a 20-minute walk from the city centre, with rent a fraction of what our friends are paying in Dublin. We have the benefit of the NHS, and have formed a wonderful circle of friends. I have found a job I love with a decent salary, working as a studio and project assistant for a design agency. Dan is going back to university here in September.
I feel like I’m finally beginning my own life now.
Darragh Rogan, Helsinki, Finland
I moved with my wife, our then one-year-old daughter, and cat to Helsinki last summer for a job on a unique construction project. The quality of life here is higher than in Ireland. Public services are excellent; we pay €350 per month for an English-speaking kindergarten, and an efficient transport system means we feel free by not having to own a car anymore.
Groceries and eating out are more expensive though, and the people are less outgoing. The Finns are a very polite and liberal, with a great work ethic, and a positive work-life balance. I enjoy my work. It is difficult to form a social circle with locals.
We know more immigrant families in similar situations to us than Finns. The Finns have their friends from childhood, and rarely move outside their social circle - you can see this in pubs where they often stick to their own groups.
I miss the spontaneous craic in Ireland, but not the parish pump politics or short-term political thinking. We miss our family and friends, but this is lessened by their many visits. The cold in winter isn’t a problem, as it’s not as damp as in Ireland, but the darkness is tough – we take a lot of vitamin D supplements.
We will move home, someday, but it will be hard to leave the quality of life behind.
Colm Fitzgerald, London, United Kingdom
My partner and I celebrate one year living in London this weekend, a year in which I’ve come across opportunities that would never have been open to me back home in Limerick after graduation: a communications job with a business organisation in Fitzrovia in Central London, and living in a Georgian house in Queens Park. Life in London goes at a million miles an hour, but I love getting the packed Bakerloo line to work and the buzz on the streets.
I’ve been glad to discover for myself that life here is far more affordable than I had been led to believe. Making new friends is tough and there is more crime. But I’m optimistic about my future in London, knowing a growing career and more money are within grasp.
Pauline Lavin, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
I moved back to Ireland after spending three years in England in May 2017 with a lot of experience in a niche area, and a Masters under my belt. I believed the media spin about the Irish economy recovering. I travelled to Donegal for an interview to be told there were 165 applicants for three jobs and they were interviewing 65. I then went to Wexford, Kildare, north Dublin and into the city for several other interviews.
By July I was completely dejected and reminded of why I had left Ireland three years earlier. I started to re-apply to jobs back in England. After interviews in Liverpool and Cardiff, I applied for a job in Oxford, was called to interview and offered the job a week later. The best advice I can give anyone who is unemployed in Ireland is do not hang on and rot; go where you can get work and then apply for jobs back in Ireland from a distance, and ask for Skype interviews.
I am unsure now whether I will return. I was not entitled to dole in Ireland as a returning emigrant and had to claim UK dole for three months, even though the cost of living in Irleand is twice what it is in the UK. Even if Brexit affects me I will probably go to Europe, rather than risk going back to Ireland.
Oscar Brophy, Bratislava, Slovakia
I moved to Bratislava shortly after I finished college last year to work in an Irish bar. I decided on Bratislava since so many central and eastern Europeans live in Ireland. I saw it as a sort of extended “cultural exchange”, more interesting than Canada or Australia. Also the women here are beautiful.
In my experience, Slovaks have a similar attitude to Irish people; a sort of devil-may-care-ness that sets us both apart from western continental Europeans.
There’s a Gaelic football team, the Slovak Shamrocks, made from a mix of Irish, other expats and a few locals. Recently they held the first ever game of hurling on Slovak soil, played against a team from Vienna. I’m now working in a customer service job at a major US-based multinational.
Right now money isn’t my focus, so I’m OK with being broke sometimes. I don’t see a long-term future for myself in this city. If you look at the number of Slovak people living in Ireland versus the number of Irish in Slovakia, it is evident many Slovaks agree.