| 14.4°C Dublin

Don't be too sad for our young emigrants - they're having a ball

I watched Ireland defeat Italy with my son last weekend. I was one of the lucky parents who saw that game with my offspring by my side.

I am sure there were plenty of other parents scanning the seats at Otaga Stadium for a glimpse of their emigrant loved ones.

The stadium, 12,000 miles away in Dunedin, New Zealand, was full of a sea of Irish. I asked myself -- where in God's name did these 25,000 Irish fans come from? We had been told as late as July that just 500 supporters would make the trip from Ireland.

Take away those who travelled, and those based in New Zealand, it's estimated that around 20,000 fans travelled from Australia to watch the tournament.

This is the new Irish diaspora. The young people often described as "victims" of the economic crash here. As they roared on Brian O'Driscoll's men, I wondered do these young people see themselves like that? I doubt it.

Over the last number of years, a generation of young people have left our shores. And it seems that this entire generation has ended up Down Under.

This recent haemorrhage of our brightest and best is unlike the massive exodus from our shores that took place in the 1980s to the US, or the 1950s to Britain. I vividly remember the heart-rending scenes, the tearful farewells in airport departure lounges, the distraught parents, of the 1980s emigration.

Many of those earlier Irish spent their time abroad clinging to a sense of home, in Irish pubs and clubs.

But on this occasion our departing emigrants appear highly educated and confident. They are smart enough to realise that sitting on the dole in Ireland as we head into another frozen winter simply cannot compare to a decent lifestyle in the sun -- and a pay cheque.

They have no illusions, they are following a dream, and who can blame them? They are leaving a land, which is groaning under the dark clouds of the deepest recession since the foundation of the State.

The Australian press gang, in a working abroad expo at the RDS last weekend, offered jobs with wages of €45,000. Such posts are rare for twentysomethings here.

I couldn't help thinking, as I sat beside my own son last Sunday, how it was a tragedy that we had exported our most priceless asset, our youth, yet again.

But then I stopped myself.

The young people at Otago Stadium and Eden Park did not appear in any way downtrodden or disheartened. The youngsters interviewed afterwards by the media were exuberant, full of optimism and hope for their future.

One young man summed it up, telling a reporter: "We're here, we love it and we ain't going back."

Why would they? Why should they? And why should they be upset about it? There is nothing here, now at least, for them to come back to.

But I felt a great pride in these young people, and so should their parents, by their 16th man display last Sunday. We'll see it again against Wales this weekend.

Yes, it's sad that they are not with us at home. But they're Over There, they're Down Under and they're happy.