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the phrase 'if i was younger i'd emigrate' rings hollowfor those forced to w ork abroad in middle age

In a recent interview, broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan spoke about how she was coping with her husband Stephen Carson's move to a new job in Belfast.

Her relentlessly upbeat narrative included mention of how her post-Primetime routine had changed in his absence. Normally she would have a glass of red wine and a debriefing session with her spouse.

Instead she sometimes texted her eldest son, aged 12, to see if he was still up, and would then have a chat with him about the night's events in the family kitchen.

Although her life is more privileged than most, a point she herself often makes, coping with the absence of a partner is not easy. For the families left behind there is often a sense of fracture. The missing spouse is an unseen presence, the person you try not to burden with everyday worries that he cannot solve from a distance.

His absence permeates everything from family occasions to school sports days, and problems with children and homework and school. For those who left in order to service a mortgage or debts at home there is the added stress of knowing that they may be the only thing between their families and financial ruin.

The phrase "if I was any younger I'd emigrate" rings hollow for those who never thought that they'd be seeking to live and work elsewhere in middle age.

Last year nearly 90,000 Irish people emigrated, the two surprises in the statistic being that the biggest increase was in the older - 21 to 44 - age group, and that some were leaving jobs at home.

The reasons being given for the latter were poor wages or promotion prospects. On an early morning flight to Manchester earlier this year, I ended up sitting beside an Irish engineer who was commuting on a regular basis to a site in the UK. There were lots of people in the same position as him, he explained. "If it wasn't for the work over there, I wouldn't be able to pay the bills at home."

Trying to squeeze in as much time with his family as possible, he had worked all week until Saturday, flown home that night and got up at 3am on Monday to be on site by 8am in England.

But he considered himself to be one of the lucky ones. His wages allowed him those trips home.

Research carried out by Dr Piaras MacEinri of UCC on 527 would-be emigrants found 27pc would be emigrating without their wives or children. Fellow UCC researcher Dr David Ralph has researched the "commuter migrants", commuting to the UK and Europe for work, most of them professionals.

Some of those he interviewed described themselves as living like students again, trapped in a cycle of work and takeaway food, with no social ties in their new workplaces.

Despite the loneliness and isolation, fear - of losing their homes and status, of in effect dropping out of the middle classes - was a strong enough factor to keep them continuing to commute.

Or as one interviewee told Dr Ralph: "Look, I'm a Catholic, but I guess I turned my children into Protestants. One of them does piano, one horse riding, the other plays hockey. All these are very pricey, and if they were to keep doing those, then daddy had to go, didn't he?"

Less fortunate are the men working in general construction and also trapped in negative equity at home, living in bedsits and working just to live.

But the default position in both groups is that an upswing in the Irish economy will allow them to return.

The commuter migrants had anxieties about drinking too much, becoming estranged from their loved ones and infidelity.

The first two mirror the experiences of previous 
generations. The latter a signal of a more alienated emigrant experience.

It's axiomatic that when broadcaster Ivan Yates spoke honestly about his lonely lost 16 months in Wales as he emerged from bankruptcy, he received little or no public sympathy.

Even allowing for the fact that Yates had returned to a well-paid job, some of the negative response he faced also is partly to do with our schizophrenic view as a society of emigration itself.

miserable

The emigrant who has done well has always overshadowed the emigrant who is miserable and falls into a darker place. Crudely put, we just don't care about the sad stories - it cuts too close to what ails us as a society.

Once, during the boom years, I found myself in an argument with a group of women who were of the view that foreign women happily leave their children behind to mind ours "because it's part of their culture".

My riposte, that it was part of our culture that Irishmen left their young families behind in the 1950s to emigrate, was considered something of a low blow.

You don't bring up the past in Ireland when things are going well. But those of us who have emigrated and returned are only too aware of how difficult it can be, and how money cannot always recompense for lost years with families and friends.

Irish accents can now be heard almost everywhere you go in London. It's not surprising given that among the hundreds of thousands that left the country between 2008 and 2013, the UK, along with the US, Canada and Australia, was one of the most popular destinations.

The older crowd are mainly male, their rumpled suits are less master of the universe and more the desperation of ordinary men. When they use their mobile phones, the calls are usually terse. "No, I didn't get him the stuff, I didn't have time," one man in Stansted loudly declares as we wait to board our flight to Dublin.

The muttered "for jaysus sake" as he shuts down his phone signals both his tiredness and a domestic frustration that I hope will have dissipated by the time he lands. Because even if they try not to show it, there is a simmering resentment from those forced to leave at those who can remain behind.

A couple of weeks ago I made an erstwhile pilgrimage to try to find the factory in London's East End where I'd once worked as a young emigrant. The streets leading down to it hadn't changed all that much. There were the same market stalls selling cheap souvenirs, toilet rolls, dish cloths and bric-a-brac. The savoury smells of cooking oils and spices still permeated the air.

In my mind's eye I could see a younger me rushing to make the early morning clock-in, part of that swirl of humanity that fills London's arteries every day.

The doorman in the factory, Tony, always the first to say hello, was part of an earlier wave of migration from southern Europe. He kept a watchful eye on new arrivals, insisting on loaning us money while we awaited our first wage and then refusing to accept any repayment.

His kindness notwithstanding, I could almost still taste the loneliness of the newly-arrived twentysomething that I was back then. Nor could I forget the pressure to keep up the appearance that all was going well for those back home.

One of my then workmates summed it up when she explained how she would save for months to fill suitcases full of presents for her family in the West of Ireland. "And then I'd be lugging them on to the bus from Dublin and feeling annoyed with them all before I'd even met them."

Another fellow exile found those who had remained in Ireland insufferably smug, defensive about even the mildest criticisms of the State that could not provide him, and thousands like him, with a living. The truth is that emigrants are supposed to suck it up and be glad they have work to go to.

On that street market in the East End, I remembered how I had bought a letter-holder with the Queen's image gaudily imprinted on it, a present for my late mother who put it on the mantelpiece back home.

"Is that all she brought you," a neighbour asked on my return. "I suppose she brought herself as well," my mother replied. Her defensiveness was not misplaced. Those who leave are not always welcomed back with open arms.

Our reluctance to give them the vote while they are away says as much. We pay lip-service to the plight of the emigrant, but only as much as it affects us and not them.

The older emigrant does not fit 
our vision of adventure in foreign climes, or the lifestyle choice that 
our politicians would have us 
believe accounts for many of those who leave our shores.

Small wonder then that apart from the 
work of a few academics, he or she is being 
conveniently airbrushed out of the official history.

and how money cannot always recompense for lost years with families and friends. .

Irish accents can now be heard almost everywhere you go in London. It's not surprising given that among the hundreds of thousands that left the country between 2008 and 2013, the UK, along with the US, Canada and Australia was one of the most popular destinations.

For those who have gone further afield ie Canada or Australia, the alternative is to uproot their families and start all over. Couples with younger families are trying to keep both homes in Ireland and abroad afloat.

On emigrant forums they are the ones asking for tax reliefs, the right to vote, and Government help in eventually finding jobs back home. Travelling over and back to the UK for work, as I have done for the past two years, you begin to notice the different waves of emigrants making the same journey.

The older crowd are mainly male, their rumpled suits are less master of the universe and more the desperation of ordinary men. When they use their mobile phones, the calls are usually terse."No I didn't get him the stuff, I didn't have time", one man in Stanstead loudly declares as we wait to board our flight to Dublin.

The muttered 'for jaysus sake' as he shuts down his phone signals both his tiredness, and a domestic frustration that I hope will have dissipated by the time he lands. Because even if they try not to show it, there is a simmering resentment from those forced to leave, at those who can remain behind.

A couple of weeks ago I made an erstwhile pilgrimage to try and find the factory in London's East End where I'd once worked as a young emigrant. The streets leading down to it hadn't changed all that much. There were the same market stalls selling cheap souvenirs, toilet rolls, dish cloths, and bric-a-brac. The savoury smells of cooking oils and spices still permeated the air.

In my minds eye I could see a younger me rushing to make the early morning clock-in, part of that swirl of humanity that fills London's arteries every day.

The doorman in the factory Tony, always the first to say hello, was part of an earlier wave of migration from Southern Europe. He kept a watchful eye on new arrivals, insisting on loaning us money while we awaited our first wage, and then refusing to accept any repayment.

His kindness notwithstanding, I could almost still taste the loneliness of the newly arrived 20-something that I was back then. Nor could I forget the pressure to keep up the appearance that all was going well for those back home.

One of my then workmates summed it up


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