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No country for young men as families suffer separation pain


DESERTED VILLAGE: The quiet streets of Broadford, Co Clare last Friday afternoon. Photo: Eamon Ward

DESERTED VILLAGE: The quiet streets of Broadford, Co Clare last Friday afternoon. Photo: Eamon Ward

David Casey, Kieran Casey,Mark Moloney,Alan Markham and Niall Moloney from Broadford, Co Clare who are now living in New Zeeland

David Casey, Kieran Casey,Mark Moloney,Alan Markham and Niall Moloney from Broadford, Co Clare who are now living in New Zeeland


DESERTED VILLAGE: The quiet streets of Broadford, Co Clare last Friday afternoon. Photo: Eamon Ward

Whenever Mary Casey misses her sons she only has to look out her window for reassurance, knowing the neighbours living on either side of her are experiencing the same separation pain.

Mary and her husband Sean are among six middle-aged couples who live within a mile of each other, four of whom are next-door neighbours, and grew up together in the pretty village of Broadford, Co Clare at a time when emigration also cast a dark shadow over their community.

Today, the families look to one another for support after their sons emigrated to New Zealand earlier this year.

Mary and Sean's sons Kieran (25) and Daniel (27) are among six young men from Broadford who also grew up together, hurled for their local GAA club and now share a house in Christchurch, New Zealand, where they are gainfully employed in the reconstruction of that city following the devastating earthquake that struck there in 2011.

But while they are literally keeping the home fires burning, the families of the young men are quietly suffering their own personal aftershocks after five of the lads boarded the same one-way flight to New Zealand in February, followed by the sixth in May.

At first, the families were excited about what they call the boys' "adventure" and their mothers got together and sat around a map of the world, plotting their sons' progress as they travelled almost 20,000 kilometres to the other side of the globe in order to work.

But the novelty of the voyage that literally had them tripping over their sons' suitcases soon wore off and less than a year later, they are now collectively suffering from what might be called a form of "reverse homesickness".

Although all of the parents are proud of their sons' achievements and are delighted that they are healthy, happy and there for one another so far away from home, the boys' absence is keenly felt at home. The parents who are left behind all share the same unspoken fear that their children may not come home.

Although Mary and Sean have two grandchildren and four other grown children, they say the house has fallen quiet without Kieran and Daniel.

Mary still has a hard time walking past the bedroom the boys shared, not knowing whether to put their clothes in storage or get rid of them.

"I'm expecting them to be gone for the next four or five years," she said.

Both sons have good jobs with the same company installing fibre optic cables and their plan is to save enough money to build their own homes on family-owned land in Broadford where the Caseys have lived for generations.

And while the boys phone regularly, Mary said she still has a hard time seeing their empty beds and worrying about them.

"Thinking about them, you'd get very negative thoughts," she told the Sunday Independent.

"But then you'd hear them laughing in the background and I try to think positive. But you could be a nervous wreck worrying about them."

Sean, who saw two of his uncles emigrate to America decades ago only to return to be buried, said it's sad to see Ireland's heartbreaking legacy of emigration coming back to haunt this generation - and their parents.

"Now it's a natural thing for people to go," he said. "It's an awful challenge."

Next door, Breda Taylor is packing a box of Tayto crisps, Barry's Tea, Hobnobs and Ballymaloe Relish among other comforts from home, to post to her son Paurig (23), who left Broadford in May to work as a plumber. And even though she and her husband Paddy experienced the heartache of emigration before when their daughter Sinead (25) moved to London for three years after being unable to secure work here, she said it doesn't get any easier.

"Not seeing them. Not touching them. That's what's traumatic about it," she said. "I'd get pangs of just wanting to see them and I get days where I'd just HAVE to talk to them. It's an urgent need," she said.

Although she keeps in touch using the long-distance app Viber and Skype, she said it's the physical separation that's almost impossible to endure.

"Skype actually makes it worse," she said. "When you come off it, the reality hits, he's just not here. It changes the house."

She blames the Government for the collapse of the economy and the lack of jobs for graduates that has forced them to emigrate. Her one consolation is that the lads are like a family and enjoying themselves while making money and getting work experience. But it's a small consolation. Tears well up in her eyes when she recalls the day Paurig left for New Zealand, just days after qualifying as a plumber.

"It was like a funeral the days afterwards. It was a horrible feeling. You try not to think about it and I make myself not think about how far away it is," she said.

Kathleen Moloney said she also took it hard when her son Mark (23) announced that he too was going to Christchurch to get work experience upon graduation from a course in construction management.

"I got a bit of shock to be honest," she said. His absence has not only been hard on herself and her husband Thomas Joseph, but also their 19-year-old son Diarmuid whom she hopes will not be the next one to leave.

She consoles herself with chats on Viber every other day and the fact that it's never been easier to stay in touch using technology. She is also encouraged by the fact the boys all brought their hurleys with them to New Zealand, which she takes as a sign that their love of the sport, if nothing else, will bring them home eventually.

But that doesn't make the loneliness and longing go away. "Christmas will be lonely, but there are so many families in the same situation."

For James and Marie Moloney (no relation), the emigration of their only child Niall (23) has been particularly hard.

"You get used to it but it doesn't get any easier. It's like when there's a death in the family," said James.

"In the beginning there were loads of calls and Skyping but that gets less and less."

Like Breda, James doesn't think that Skype is all it's cracked up to be and he feels his son's absence even more once they disconnect.

"It was a great thing in the beginning. At first it was a novelty, but then you start missing them more," James said.

Sunday Independent