Thursday 29 September 2016

'My grandmother watched four of her eight sons leave Ireland and I never thought I'd be sitting here in 2016 watching half of my sons leave the country too'

Greg Harkin

Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30

Deirdra Friel. Photo: Brian McDaid
Deirdra Friel. Photo: Brian McDaid

In Milford everyone knows someone who is 'away'.

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According to the Census, this area of Co Donegal is one of those worst affected by migration.

But few of those who have left are still in Ireland; many have chosen to settle in Edmonton, Canada, drawn by work and the fact so many other people from here are already over there.

More than 40 young men have left Milford GAA club in the past few years. Those who return at Christmas play in a charity match against those still here in the annual Exiles game.

For one local couple it has become a matter of daily life that three of their four sons have left the area.

Retired school teacher Fergus Friel is president of the GAA club. His wife Deirdra, a retired Courts Service employee, now runs a tourist business, giving guided walks of nearby historic towns of Ramelton and Rathmullan.

Michael McBride at The Travellers Inn in Milford, Co Donegal. Photo: Brian McDaid
Michael McBride at The Travellers Inn in Milford, Co Donegal. Photo: Brian McDaid

"A whole generation of young people are missing from the area," says Deirdra.

One son is a teacher in Perth, Australia, another is a property agent in Miami (where he settled after two years in Edmonton). A third son works for phone company Three in Dublin.

Only Fergus is still in Donegal, ironically working at the Letterkenny-based finance company Pramerica founded by a distant American relative Bill Friel.

"It's hard for us, seeing your children having to leave the country, but that is a fact of life here," says Deirdra.

"There has been a complete haemorrhaging of young people. There is a whole group of young ones missing. The fact is there are no jobs here so the Census figures on the depopulation of Donegal don't come as a surprise.

"My grandmother watched four of her eight sons leave Ireland and I never thought I'd be sitting here in 2016 watching half of my sons leave the country too."

Milford used to have 16 shops on its main street. Now there are three. The Bank of Ireland and AIB branches are gone. The old court house and main street hotel are overgrown with weeds.

Anthony McGettigan runs the family butcher's shop founded by his father in 1947.

"I went to London myself at one time but now the young people have gone all over the world," he says.

Down the street, publican Michael McBride runs the successful Travellers Inn, where food is the main draw for tourists.

"Two of my brothers left during the 1980s recession and never came home. The same thing is continuing to happen now," he says.

John McAteer, now 71, continues to edit the town's paper the 'Tirconaill Tribune'.

"The only surprise about the Donegal population decline is that it is not greater given the lack of investment here," he says.

"The 'For Sale' hoardings on pubs, clubs and shops greet visitors on main streets and it is immediately evident those hoardings and the boarded up windows can no longer camouflage the extent of the decline."

Irish Independent

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