Will Ireland ever be good again asks a returned emigrant


Editors Note: Dubliner Eoin Brennan interned for the Irish Voice for a year in 2012, and returning home has been a shock to the system.

It's now a little over a year back in Dublin for me, since the end of a year living in New York. Initial feelings of emptiness and despair at having to say goodbye to a life, and place, I came to love have subsided, if not disappeared.

What has replaced it is a strange mixture of the permanent mixed with constant uncertainty. Ireland is stuck in a dark place, and we still have no idea where we’re going.

Five months passed following my return to Ireland before I got the chance to go back to work.  The work is interesting and provides me with excellent experience, and I feel lucky to be able to work in my chosen field in the current economic climate. I may be offered a permanent placement when my contract finishes, but it seems unlikely.

Should that reality come to pass, I imagine it’s time for serious consideration of emigration. Off to London, perhaps, maybe Canada. Even Hong Kong has been considered.

Ideally my next destination would be New York, but the U.S. visa process remains a difficult barrier to negotiate, to put it mildly. 

Sadly, if leaving Ireland does become a necessity, a return to America now seems the longest shot.

The Ireland I left two years ago was still in the grasp of a fever contracted from the most severe financial crisis in memory. It felt like those who didn’t quickly make it to a plane or boat would be trapped beneath the falling rubble of a crumbling country.

The Ireland I’m in now feels calmer, in some senses. Or quieter, at least.

Maybe it’s as simple as there being less people here. Maybe we’re more at peace with our situation, on the surface. The anger has not abated, perhaps just internalized.

The fallout from the financial crisis is still on the air -- thick and wrapped around the threads of our lives.  Lingering like stale smoke.

We’re still broke, we’re still living with a poor health service, and more than ever we are forcing teachers, police officers and all manner of public servants to take the hit and cover the nation’s massive losses.

Unemployment is now higher, austerity measures cut deeper than ever before, while the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

Meanwhile, last year saw the highest level of emigration since the Famine. People leaving school and college enter a job market bereft of prospects and face working long hours for free in the hope of eventual gains.

Countless families are still burdened with mounting debt and too many individuals are sliding into the darkness of depression. We’re still cutting benefits for the weakest at every opportunity.

We’re going against everything that feels right. That wears a society down, to see how we chip away at each other (or someone does it in our name) just to get by.

Even if we don’t speak about it every day, even if we seem to be willing and able to carry on and smile – it still leaves a mark.

It makes us all complicit in the misery and hacks away at our collective self-esteem. It causes us to turn on each other as we play the circular rounds of a pointless blame game.

In real terms we’re still drifting, gripping the crumbling debris of our country – sometimes feeling like the driftwood lingering off Europe’s west coast. And, yet, it all feels less panicked, more at peace with our lot.

Is it shock? Is it acceptance? Is it determination and grit rising above the hardship? Or is it some form of mass depression, a great anger turned inwards?

We’ve lost a lot in the past five years.  But it’s not the money. It’s not the houses. It’s not the new cars. It’s not the several holidays a year that people want back.

The absence created by their departure isn’t the catalyst for how we feel. It’s the injustice that permeates every level of our lives now, in one way or another.

It’s the deep cuts to healthcare, education and emergency services and what they mean for people’s lives. It’s the long queues at the social welfare office that stretch down the street.

It’s the forced emigration. It’s the silent pain carried by those left behind. It’s the final glance over a young shoulder at a weeping mother waving through a crowd in the airport departures hall. 

It’s the memories we know we won’t be able to forget, and the people we know who probably won’t return. This is the lasting legacy.

It’s the rapidly climbing numbers of young people who choose to take their own lives.  We’ve got one of the highest suicide rates in the EU, a rise directly linked with the economic situation.