Special Report | Ireland: Abandon Ship!

In the first of two special reports from Ireland, Ceasefire's Lily Murphy draws a sombre portrait of an accelerating mass exodus by the country's young people seeking better prospects abroad.

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Monday, April 2, 2012 14:30 - 0 Comments

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Queues for entry to the Work Abroad Expo in Dublin – March 2012 (Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

This year marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. It is also a year which will see thousands more people emigrate from recession stricken Ireland which, like the Titanic, has sunk and anyone desperate enough has already jumped ship.

A recent work abroad expo sponsored by the Commonwealth bank of Australia was held in Dublin and my own city of Cork. It attracted people eager to leave these shores to work abroad; and they came out in their thousands. Over 10,000 people attended the Dublin expo while more than 3,000 turned up at the one held in Cork.

The work abroad expo in Cork was held in a hotel just outside the city and people turned up the night before and slept in their cars in order to get a place in the queue for the following day. On that morning, traffic congestion on the road to the expo was so intense that it led many to abandon their cars on the dual carriageway and walk to the expo in the hope of getting a job in places like Australia and Canada.

The majority of the recruiters were Canadian with Saskatchewan being the main area of choice for jobs and some sort of financial security for emigrants. (Incidentally, we have many strange place names in Ireland so one would think we would have no problem with the pronunciation of Saskatchewan but apparently we do, and I fear it will change within the next twelve months).

News reports on the morning of the work abroad expo showed thousands of people literally queuing up to leave Ireland. Some were young, some were old, some were entire families but they all had one thing in common, they were all left on the scrap heap to rot by the government and banks who lost the run of themselves during the boom years. Ireland used to be a faithful country but when it started acting like a miscreant, it ruined everything.

Scenes on the news showed skilled and unskilled workers, some who had left school at a young age for a wage and some who hold now worthless college degrees. It all resembled nothing more than an organised evacuation of the country. The government are secretly overjoyed that so many are choosing to leave because another departing plane of emigrants is another load off their minds. With so many choosing to take up new lives in places like Canada and Australia, a question imposes itself: who will be the last one to go? And will they please turn off the light on their way out?

We in Ireland are no strangers to economic and social hardships. I even suspect we must wallow in misery in order to be 100% happy with ourselves; but this recession is a far cry from the great economic depression we experienced in the 1950s and the 1980s, because this recession came directly after a sudden prosperous boom which means people have far more to loose than was the case in the 50s or 80s. The destination for emigrants has also changed. The Irish no longer walk the streets of New York or London to find work. Canada and Australia and even parts of Asia are on the radar of the new emigrant, the one who was born into a prosperous age on these shores, the one who was guaranteed a college education and a job for life along with many holidays during the year and a shiny new car to drive the highways and byways of boom-time Ireland.

While destinations change, the rhetoric of emigration does not. Like the 80s, there are still sad scenes at airports across the land where sons and daughters leave for a new life abroad. Mothers parcelling up Barry’s tea and bags of Tayto crisps and sending them to their offspring who are parched for a taste of home. The sense of patriotism which grows larger the further away from the homeland you are.

The Christmas homecoming and New year leaving. That Pogues song ‘Thousands are sailing’, a song from the eighties about the emigration wave of that era, seems to have regained a poignant relevance. And no wonder! With lyrics like:

“Thousands are sailing, across the western ocean,

Where the hand of opportunity, draws tickets in a lottery,

Wherever we go, we celebrate, the land that made us refugees.”

These days, one thing has changed and that is the fact that emigration is no longer a shameful thing. Quite the opposite in fact, it is an achievement, a sign of resourcefulness. After all, the only way to survive a sinking ship is to jump off it.

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Lily Murphy

Lily Murphy is a graduate of University College Cork from where she achieved a B.A in history and politics. These days she falls into the category of Ireland’s lost generation.

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