EIGHT of 11 boys in a north Kerry primary school class from the mid-1990s are now living in Australia in one of the starkest illustrations of the level of emigration from this county.
The class photograph ( right) shows the Lixnaw Boys' School fourth class of 1996. Of the 11 young lads in the photograph, only three remain in Ireland in a stark indication of the extent to which emigration has broken up families across the county throughout the recession.
"It's phenomenal," Frank Ronan - one of the class - told The Kerryman. "Five of us from our class are actually living together in the same house in Perth and there are people from nearly every parish in north Kerry living here and this is just one Australian city." Frank returned on a surprise visit home this Christmas - his first time in Ireland in over two years.
Local publican Paddy Quilter is keeping a book on all the young men and women who have emigrated from an area within a three-mile radius of his bar over the last four years and the contents are stark.
"It is unbelieveable. I have a picture here of the minor hurling team from 2004 and 11 of them are now living abroad. It tears the heart out of the community but the one good thing is that all the lads are flying it now," he said. "I know all about it myself as I lived as both an illegal and legal immigrant in the US years ago. The main difference now is that our young people are highly qualified leaving and can compete as equals in the countries they go to."
Paddy was moved to being keeping track of local emigration after his nephew Michael Quilter left for Australia four years ago. "I have 63 names now in the book."
Frank Ronan (25) shares a house in Perth with school friends Adrian Allen, Eric Keane, Daniel Conway and Seán Wallace. Classmate Pádraig Fitzmaurice is now living in Tasmania, carrying out farmwork as part of a regional requirement on all emigrants who wish to stay for two years.
Classmate Patrick O'Connell also lives in Perth and fellow former pupil Kevin Power is living in Melbourne. Eric Keane's brothers Joseph and Brian are also living in Australia.
"I was watching a programme on TV about the Irish living in Australia and it was a pity that the focus seemed to be all about boozing. It's hard work in Australia, I have to get up at 5.30am each morning but thankfully I'm doing well as a manager in a sign company," Frank said.
Lixnaw man Keith Boyd (24) is home temporarily, waiting to hear if a gas pipe-laying company he was working for in Queensland will sponsor him full-time.
"The scale of emigration from here is phenomenal, but it's the same for every other county." Two of the three siblings from Keith's household are now living abroad; sister Greta moved to the UK for work over two years ago.
"It's tough on everyone, but you have to get on with it and I'm a different person to the boy who left two years ago," Keith said. "I've worked all over Australia and I'm a lot more confident in myself but it is very tough on the families at home. It took my mother a while to get over me going to Australia."