Does Irish emigration ever truly go away?

Does Irish emigration ever truly go away?

A RECENT report by the National Youth Council of Ireland looked at a number of issues around the young people of Ireland. 

It covered such things as mental health, housing, and economic concerns and spoke about young people’s worries in those areas.

I would imagine many of their concerns would be shared by their generational counterparts in many other European countries.

Yet, the report stated that upwards of 70 per cent of young Irish people between the ages of 18 and 24 were considering emigrating.

I can’t help but think that is a specifically Irish phenomenon.

Emigration as an intrinsic part of our psychological make-up.

My eldest daughter was recently at a going away party for a good friend.

The friend was part of a group who were going to Canada.

They were going indefinitely. They were going to look for work. They were emigrating.

Of course, like most parents of Irish children, the fear my own might be forced to go and live somewhere else is now in the back of my mind.

When, I wonder, is this not a feature of Irish life?

When do Irish parents rest easy that, whatever else happens, their children will carry on living close by?

Within reach. A short drive maybe. A long drive, perhaps. Not a zoom call from the other side of the world.

I remember in the crash of 2008 that we suddenly couldn’t get enough lads for five-a-side football because so many had left.

Within months of things going spectacularly wrong a generation left.

In an Irish context it seems like a given response. And why wouldn’t it be? But is that the case in, for instance, the UK?

Of course individuals will go here and go there, leaving Leeds or Manchester or Birmingham, for Sydney, Abu Dhabi, or California.

It does not, though, seem to be an intrinsic part of British life the way it is Irish life.

It always was, of course, a part of who we were.

You are from an immigrant Irish family. I’m from an immigrant Irish family. This newspaper is from immigrant Irish families.

But things have changed, haven’t they?

This is no longer the poor, under-educated Ireland my parents had to leave.

Ireland is now wealthy. Indeed, according to the World Bank we are the fourth richest country in the world.

Our young are no longer those who left school at fourteen.

They are graduates and often have Masters degrees.

They are no longer lacking in confidence or refined graces.

The Irish are now cool and loved and the young Irish revel in that. Why wouldn’t they? Yet, still they leave. Or, at the very least, they still think of leaving.

Leaving is still a viable part of their life choices.

Not just leaving because they have more opportunities now but leaving because leaving Ireland is always on the table for the Irish.

How many young English people think of emigration as one of their top options?

How many young French? How many young Canadians?

Emigration seems simply to be part of who we are, whether Ireland is poor or Ireland is rich.

Of course, we are a small country. A small island. The world is a bigger, more fascinating place than just these four green fields.

It is no harm that a self assured Irish generation wants to go off and explore.

But the feeling of emigration as an option seems peculiar to us, at least in this part of Europe.

The feeling that Ireland might not be able to offer the life they hope for.

And, of course, with emigration comes all the politics of emigration as when generations of sons and daughters left so that other sons and daughters could stay.

Indeed, who leaves and who stays has never been a question Ireland has been keen to ask, never mind answer.

There is an economic and class issue behind emigration that is too uncomfortable for Irish society to confront.

As the child of Irish immigrants I thought that by coming back I’d somehow undone that initial departure.

I thought I’d broken that circle of emigration because, hey, I returned.

Now my born and bred Irish children are grown up and growing up and I’m looking at them and I’m starting to wonder.

Didn’t that emigration go away at all?