AT times deeply touching, at times infuriating, a debate about young people having to emigrate in search of work -- which is still going on in the letters-to-the-editor page of the Irish Independent -- has revealed extremely divided opinions about the recession and how people might deal with its effects.
The little controversy began with a letter from Carol Flannery of Mayo, who has a master of science degree. She wrote that, because she could not even find a work-experience post, never mind a paid job, she was preparing to emigrate.
"Like all graduates of my generation, I am stuck", she wrote. "Taoisigh, past and present, I lay the blame at your feet. You had a job to do, but you failed."
It was a short letter, and one might have thought it would draw a sympathetic response. After all, who wants to see young people with good qualifications leave the country?
But no, the initial reaction was deeply critical of "silver- spoon graduates with unrealistic expectations" and Carol was told that a university qualification does not bestow a divine right to a job.
Because she had quoted the phrase, "the best go, the worst stay", Carol was accused of including herself among the "intelligentsia". That's the sort of bourgeois conceit that used to really annoy the Red Guard back in Mao's China in the '60s and, today, it seems to annoy a lot of people in Ireland.
Carol Flannery of Mayo might have felt hurt and dispirited by the accusations of self- indulgence and ungratefulness to a State that had provided her with an education. She might have held her peace.
Instead, she responded with a dignified and restrained dismissal of the many assumptions her critics had made about her, assumptions that smacked of unthinking stereotyping.
She explained that she had spent a year looking for work since her graduation with an MSc in archaeology. She is working hard, as a waitress, to raise the cash to join an excavation in Spain, to gain experience. Hard work is nothing new to her; she worked her way through college. It breaks her heart to leave her family and friends, she wrote.
What happened then was quite extraordinary.
Emails poured into the Irish Independent from home and abroad, offering sympathy and encouragement to Carol and commenting scathingly on her critics.
"Come to Birmingham, Carol, like many a fine Mayo man and woman before you." Her talent, ambition and determination would be welcomed. Come to Australia, Carol. Come to Canada.
There was a distinct difference in tone between the messages from Carol's emigrant defenders and those from home who sought to analyse and dissect the young graduate's feelings and motivations. If anything, the migrant voices seemed to echo Carol's own feisty style.
How many young graduates find themselves in the same situation? And do they have to look to those who have gone before them in order to find sympathy and understanding?
The Central Statistics Office tells us that unemployment among college-leavers has almost trebled in the past two years and a survey by the Higher Education Authority published at the weekend showed that less than half the undergraduates who completed degrees last year were in employment.
Most of the remainder have gone on to further studies but sooner or later, as it has for Carol Flannery, decision time will arrive . . . Should I stay or should I go?
But if, like Carol, disillusioned graduates choose to try their luck in another country, will they be able to find a job?
It is not a given. Chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland, recently cited mounting evidence that, compared to other developed countries, Irish graduates are not necessarily the first choice of employers.
"Our famed flexibility and intellectual nimbleness is disappearing," he said.
Why? Because of light-touch regulation of third-level institutions and what can only be described as a dumbing down by college departments.
Of course, it's not all about graduates or, as the economist Colm McCarthy put it recently, "High falutin' jobs for PhDs in white coats".
Long-term unemployment has risen sharply and looks likely to be a reality of Irish life for decades to come. If short-term unemployment eventually turns into an unpleasant memory, long-term unemployment is a cancer that destroys human lives and shrinks the economy.
At home or abroad, the graduate at least has a better chance of breaking the cycle than a person with no qualifications.
So who is Carol Flannery and what is to become of her?
Carol is 23 and her home is Ballina. She was drawn to archaeology because, in primary school, she wanted to be like Indiana Jones.
"As the years progressed, I realised Indiana's archaeology wasn't legal, but that didn't diminish my interest in archaeology. I always loved museums; walking around them for hours as a teenager was never a bore. Then the best thing happened, I went to Egypt. It was amazing. A dream come true. So, I went to NUIG and did arts, picking archaeology and history.
"After much researching, I applied and was accepted to an MSc in Bournemouth University, England, to study forensic archaeology. This was neither free nor cheap. Though my parents helped a lot, I still had to work hard to afford the course. Working as a waitress helped to fund my degree and my masters.
"Now it's a Catch 22 situation. No experience . . . no job; no job . . . no experience. That's why I am paying to go on an excavation in Spain -- to gain the experience I need.
"After that, I plan to head to America to do some volunteer work for a few months, and find a company to sponsor me with my visa. If I don't succeed there, I will join some family in Australia.
"Realistically, for the next year I won't be gaining a wage -- it's a daunting task, and one which I plan to accomplish.
"Either way, this time next year I won't be living in Ireland."
This is the reality. Thousands of Carols are making plans to seek fulfilment elsewhere.
They are bright, ambitious and intelligent and they crave success.
Most will put down roots in some other country.
They represent an incalculable loss.