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Homecoming isn't all happy news for migrants

EMIGRATION has been significant to Irish life over the past century. During tough financial periods, the allure of economic opportunities overseas has drawn many away from home.

The obstacles of living abroad can be vast, but new challenges can also be immense when returning home to Ireland.

Professor Alan Barrett and Dr Irene Mosca of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), at Trinity College Dublin, are examining the outcomes of return migrants, and Dr Mosca recently presented some of their early findings at Oxford University in England.

The TILDA study, which is examining more than 8,100 Irish residents aged 50 and older, has found that one in four males and more than one in five females have resided abroad for more than six months at some point in their lives.

Almost eight in 10 Irish emigrants relocated to the UK and the two main reasons given for returning to Ireland were split between job opportunities and family issues, at 40pc a piece.

Early findings show that the longer people resided outside Ireland, the longer it took for them to re-integrate into society.

Long-term return migrants were less likely to report being a member of a community organisation, less likely to attend church services and less likely to be married, compared to short-term migrants or those who never lived abroad.

Dr Barrett and Dr Mosca also found that return migrant males are more likely to consume additional alcohol, with three in 10 reporting that they drink alcohol at least three days a week. This represents a four per cent increase above those that never lived off Irish shores.

Previous research has shown that many male Irish migrants, particularly those that relocated to the UK, found themselves working harsh manual labour jobs and living under grim conditions.

Discrimination and poor housing were frequent occurrences, and many reported drinking alcohol more heavily while abroad.

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The good news for return migrants is that social isolation is different from loneliness, and most return emigrants did not report feeling lonely, despite being more socially isolated.

Professor Barrett and Dr Mosca's theory is that this group might have developed a coping mechanism to combat loneliness, as they previously lived away from family and friends.

Surprisingly, TILDA finds that the ageing population in Ireland is not as lonely as some of our European counterparts. Only eight per cent of Irish respondents aged 65 and over in TILDA reported feeling lonely often.

Meanwhile, 20pc of Greeks aged 65 and older, and 18pc of Italians over the same age reported feeling "severely lonely" in the European Union's Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) study. But even if feelings of loneliness occur less frequently, it is imperative to try to join in community activities.

Being an active member of the community can be critical for mental and physical health. Frequent social interaction can be one of the most effective means of combating depression and certain physical ailments, particularly in the elderly.

- Alex Kallimanis, TILDA, Trinity College Dublin