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Mary Catherine Brouder

A U.S. girl chasing the Irish dream

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Mary Catherine Brouder

Dublin: Combing through my email outbox, I count how many resumes I’ve sent out in the last few months. Forty-two, forty-eight, forty-nine;  this month’s total hovers around fifty. I’m too tired to count beyond that depressing point.

The only message I’ve received in response is the philosophical one: Nobody wants to hire you!

I came to Ireland from New York City exactly a year ago. It was only supposed to be for a short visit, but like many before me, I fell in love with the land where my father and grandparents were raised, and decided to set up a life here. I’ll stay for a few months, I thought, depending on how well things go.

If you ask me today why I decided to stay here in Ireland, I’d offer some dreamy conclusion about my familial heritage,  the laid-back European lifestyle, or the intoxicating allure of Irish culture.

The truth is, I’m not exactly certain what it is that is keeping me here, after spending months barely making ends meet, constantly worrying about bills, and walking instead of taking trains or buses, to save a few coins. I guess I’m in search of some version of what I’d call the Irish Dream.

But I’m not the only one struggling. The Central Statistics Office estimates that the unemployment rate in Ireland last month was about 13.7%. In 2009, just under 1.4 million people of Ireland’s 4.4 million residents received weekly social welfare benefits.
Everywhere I turn, there are young, able-bodied, intelligent people who are receiving public assistance. Spending their days trolling the city for jobs, and their nights emailing resumes. There are some who turn to the temptations of the idle mind – and spend every dime on drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

Addictions thrive in times like these. I often see young people who, at their ripe ages, have already become gaunt shadows of their former selves. They float around the city aimlessly, getting kicked off the Luas, sitting on park benches, hunched and full of misery manufactured for them in chemical labs.

But I’ve also seen an impressive number of talented young people exploring their creativity, experimenting and creating artworks that they never would’ve had the opportunity to construct, had they been employed forty hours a week. For example, one young woman recently explained to me that she receives a dole allowance, and with that money, she can cover the travel expenses necessary to undertake an unpaid internship at a glass-making factory. Without it, she would never be able to fascinate us with stories of grand kilns and paint-stains on her fingertips – or learn skills that will make her a better employee in her future endeavors.

I was also inspired recently while covering Knockanstockan Independent Music Festival, in Blessington, Co. Wicklow. It was a huge feat, with about 2,000 attendees and over 80 bands, and none of the staffers or musicians were paid for their efforts. Everyone volunteered to celebrate life, and music – the things money can’t buy – and in turn, helped the local economy by giving vendors a market for their goods.

In a chance encounter , I happened upon some of the organizers and musicians from the festival a few weeks later in a local pub. I saw them digging into their pockets and sifting through their change to come up with the price of a few pints. But, they played their songs and shared their few laughs, and I doubt any of them would’ve given that up for a few more pennies in their pockets.

In truth, I count myself among those who wouldn’t change a thing. I have been blessed by the recession. Because I have had so much free time between sporadic journalism jobs, I’ve been able to work on a project of my own. My sister and I have spent the last eight months producing a documentary film about the life of a fine Irish priest who was brutally murdered abroad.

If I had been working the kind of hours I had worked back home – 10 to 16 a day – I never would’ve had the opportunity to dedicate my time and efforts to this project. And I never would have been able to enjoy working with my sister, a lawyer who until this year, had only dreamed of being able to use the film skills she acquired in college.

In that regard, I count myself lucky to have been partially unemployed during my time here.

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