Sunday 19 January 2020

'This is the generation that did not expect to emigrate'

It is not just rural parishes that are losing their young people, the leafy suburbs are also being affected, writes Marcus Spray

Marcus Spray

WE HAD gathered for our annual Kris Kindle -- a tradition amongst friends from our early secondary school days, one we have maintained right up to today, with the majority of us now in our last year at college.

We don't see each other nearly as often as we used to, so a merry night together is always looked forward to. One friend gave a toast, reminiscing on shared past times but also on the exciting future he felt we all had. But he sounded a poignant note of caution, as he acknowledged how next year it was entirely possible that many of us could be living in different parts of the world. The few times we see each other now may become virtually non-existent, with emigration changed from a mere statistic to a distinct reality.

This was the generation that did not expect it. Up until the Nineties, nearly everyone growing up was aware of the possibility they may need to emigrate for work. Not us, however, with the roar of the Celtic Tiger -- the consciousness of emigration had diminished.

Somehow we had escaped the fate of our antecedents and proudly felt we were the generation who could finally forge our own paths. Now with the complete collapse of the economy and staggering unemployment figures, the new reality has left us bewildered.

This realisation of what lies ahead is imposing itself on us more and more. My Sunday league football club, once proud with three teams, has been reduced to one. Seemingly overnight, the senior team appears to have evaporated, the players moving abroad to find work with their trades. Now it's not just the familiar story of the GAA parish team vanishing, emigration is twisting its way through the soccer teams of south Dublin.

In college, the uncertainty is felt more acutely. Just last week when our professor was wrapping up our last economics class before the winter break, he asked those who were considering moving away to a different country to raise their hands. After a moment of hesitance, virtually the whole class put up their hands. The professor

seemed visibly taken aback. Such a shame, he told us, that Ireland would lose this bright bunch. In his long career, he hadn't seen numbers like this since the Eighties.

Another lecturer stressed the importance of avoiding any gaps in our CVs. Employers must see progression -- bar-work or, worse, a year on the dole simply wouldn't do. The impression gleaned was that we couldn't afford to wait for the economy to improve. Emigration consequently becomes a long-term as well as a short-term necessity.

There is no doubt that moving abroad holds a certain allure and excitement. Unlike London, New York and Sydney, Ireland just seems to plod on the same as ever. My year studying abroad in the University of California showed me the stimulation and personal development living overseas can provide. It also presented an insight as to how an emigrant might feel away from friends and family. Crucially, however, I reflected that living there was entirely my decision and that my attitude was shaped by this fact. Once deprived of choice, people invariably begin to resent their situation.

There is a palpable sense of frustration with this picture of the future. Just like taxpayers who feel they're now bearing the brunt of the hardship for the mistakes and greed of the political class, many young adults now face a future that is not necessarily determined by their hard work and talent but one that is encumbered by the poor decisions of older generations.

Even if a young person has played by the rules-- persevered through the archaic Leaving Cert, succeeded with the pressures of the CAO points race and attained a suitable course, maintained good marks throughout college -- all whilst enhancing their CVs with extra-curricular activities and non-paying internships -- they still may not have the choice of pursuing modest goals within the country of their birth.

A sustainable future at home is yet again a privilege, not a right. For now, it seems, the Irish narrative of the emigrating young person seems set to continue unhindered.

Marcus Spray is a final year student in philosophy, politics, economics and sociology at Trinity College Dublin

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News