Everyone has different reasons for leaving Ireland, whether in hope, anger or just for a little while. What was yours?Getty images

Emigration - for centuries Irish emigrants have done it willingly or unwillingly. In recent years they've been doing it in numbers not seen in decades - from April of 2012 to April 2013, a record high of 89,000 people left Ireland.

That's a lot of heartbreak and hopefulness.

But no matter how you take your leave of the Old Sod some patterns have emerged over time and it’s possible you might see yourself and your own journey among the ones listed below.

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover but here’s IrishCentral’s ten ways you leave Ireland.

1. Angrily

James Joyce

James Joyce


Leaving the Old Sod in high dudgeon is a time-honored tradition and perhaps no one in the nations history left the place as angrily or finally as it’s most celebrated literary son James Joyce.

Before he left Joyce wrote an unforgettable record of all the privations and heartbreaks – both seen and unseen - that eventually drove him from his homeland.

In Araby, a haunting short story from his peerless collection Dubliners, Joyce’s young narrator – a fairly obvious stand in for himself – desires nothing more than to win the affection of his adored neighbor the young Mangan girl.

Although they live on the same dead end street they rarely see each other, so he dreams of capturing her attention with a little gift. When she finally speaks to him about the upcoming bazaar called Araby, his spirits soar – and all he wants to do is buy her a little a trinket to convey his deep affection.

But 19 century Ireland immediately gets in the way – the young Mangan girl must attend a retreat at her convent and cannot go with him; the boy himself must wait on his drunken uncle to come home for a few coins to visit the bazaar; even the romance denying culture that he lives in plays its suffocating part.

Instead of the connection and warmth he craves he encounters contempt and ostentatious piety and indifference. The gulf between his dreams and his daily life becomes unbridgeable. In the story and in his life Joyce takes his first steps toward his future abroad. 

Read more: Ireland produces more immigrants than most other countries

2. Accidentally

You never know who you'll meet...

You never know who you'll meet...


You set off for a summer working holiday abroad and you just never leave. Perhaps you meet a handsome Yank or German or Aussie, and the direction of your life takes an unexpected turn. It's a time-honored path.

You’d be surprised how often this happens to people. You come for a short stay and somehow the California sunlight or the mild Australian winters work their magic on you. Or before you know what hit you you’ve spent three years in Berlin putting down firm roots.

Accidental Irish emigrants can often end up becoming the most settled transplants of all in their new country. That’s because they possess the ability to transition seamlessly. Sometimes it can be so seamless – and so permanent – that they hardly notice it themselves. Decades can pass before they admit they're at home away from home.

3. Sadly

An illustration of Irish emigrants leaving Queenstown, Cork, Ireland, from the London Illustrated News, Sept. 5, 1874.

An illustration of Irish emigrants leaving Queenstown, Cork, Ireland, from the London Illustrated News, Sept. 5, 1874.


In the 19 century Irish people used to hold American Wakes (where the entire town would turn out to lament your departure for the US with a night of hail and farewell, believing – usually correctly – that they would never see your face again).

Those kinds of lifetime severances aren't possible anymore in the age of air travel and Skype – but for some home birds they can still feel like it.

If you can’t hear a U2 song without waxing nostalgic you might be one of them. If almost everything you see or hear reminds you of home you almost certainly are.

It goes without saying that everything at home is better than anything wherever you eventually fetch up. It also goes without saying that you'll almost certainly return home to stay eventually. It's because you refuse to really leave.

4. Bitterly

Don't look back in anger...

Don't look back in anger...


This kind of goodbye can be the most final of all. Whether it’s over a broken heart – which, it has to be said, is a far from uncommon occurrence for the Irish – or from a promise that's been defaulted on, there’s no shortage of bitter emigrants.

Whether the hurt was delivered by an untrue lover, say – or one of Ireland’s famously high handed institutions, which can scar you for life - the fault that was once found in another person or thing can eventually be projected onto the entire race.

At some stage every Irish person meets a bitter Irish emigre who has come to believe that the unfortunate experience that drove them out of the country is a national failing common to all the Irish.

This kind of bitterness can shape a life and it can distort one too. Be wary if you encounter it.

Read more: On New Year's Day 1892 Annie Moore was the first immigrant through Ellis Island

5. Temporarily

Who doesn't love a little J-1 visa fun?

Who doesn't love a little J-1 visa fun?


It’s become fashionable among some well heeled millennials to talk of temporary emigration. They call it taking time out for practical work experience abroad but that work has a very imperceptible tendency to become permanent in many cases.

You can commence an internship with a tech giant or sub edit on a famed publication, say, and before you can say Philadelphia, Here I Come you’ll be nostalgically singing She Moved Through the Fair to a bunch of bemused hipsters, ordering a Guinness as they opt for artisanal Kombucha.

You may think you're the master of your own destiny but fate has a few cards up her sleeve too. Don't get too boastful, you could be building your nest and not just feathering it.

6. Willingly

Setting out on a new adventure

Setting out on a new adventure


The spirit of adventure runs deep in the Irish. It’s the legacy of growing up in a mythic landscape, one full of dreaming loughs and wild mountain ranges. Even in the low lying midlands the sky can fill with epic clouds and the summer sunrises can seem to suggest the world’s newborn.

With that kind of poetry happening day in day out in the world around you its easy to find an appetite for transformation growing within yourself. You just may find that spirit sends you out into the wider world one day, and if it does go with it.

7. Despairingly

Leaving Ireland

Leaving Ireland


Sectarianism, religious condemnation, radical politics, homophobia and a host of other social ills have long driven the Irish far from home.

But more intimate experiences can play their part too: sometimes it's the loneliness of rural or city life, sometimes its the small town mindsets that can thwart your own development; these have been secret and not so secret factors for many Irish people when they decide to make a move abroad.

Irish people will tell you that they moved to learn new skills, or to avail of better career opportunities, but they probably won’t tell you immediately that they were driven out by sorrow or too much solitariness too. Nevertheless they often are. There's no dishonor in saying so.

8. Exhaustedly

Sometimes leaving seems like the only choice

Sometimes leaving seems like the only choice


When you have sent out 100 resumes, when you have emailed 1000 requests, and all your efforts have come to naught, something snaps. This route to a new life abroad is one of the most painful – and sadly for many Irish – one of the most common.

As children we grow to love the land that we grow up in. It's not surprising we should want to stay there. But as centuries of the Irish have learned what we want and what we can afford can be altogether different stories.

There's no shame in leaving because you're exhausted of trying – and failing – to make a living, but try telling that to the tens of thousands who made the trip before you and could not speak of it later.

9. Scorched earthers

Scorched earth

Scorched earth


When – as sometimes happens – your ties to a place are sundered through bereavement or some other unmistakably final development or act, it can become too painful to live in a place where the life you once knew and loved is lost forever.

Many Irish over the centuries have found themselves walking away from scorched earth. Sometimes it was literal through the loss of a home, sometimes it was emotional through the loss of human connections. But when the pain of staying is worse than the pain of leaving this has inspired many journeys abroad.

10. Lovers that leave

"There's a place for us. Somewhere a place for us..."

"There's a place for us. Somewhere a place for us..."


Love is only possible when it has a context. Years ago if your town or village didn't approve of your match you could find that the only way to maintain it was by leaving.

Many Irish tired of the sting of public scorn or the scarlet letter once took this route.

It wasn't so very long ago that lovers of different faiths found themselves pushed to the margins. It wasn't so very long ago that couples who challenged prevailing attitudes were forced to leave home.

We should remember them and learn from their expulsion. Ireland could be Eden but it could also expel its heretics more ruthlessly and finally than the God of the Old Testament. Not every happy ending had a happy start.

* Originally published in February 2015.