For almost every Irish person that boards a plane destined for new beginnings in a foreign country, there is a mother or father wandering back to the car park in the airport, wondering where it all went so wrong.
Once again emigration in Ireland a reality for Irish people from a range of backgrounds. But as Irish citizens around the world touch down in far flung places, they leave behind friends and family, many who find it hard to witness the exodus.
The leavetaking can be tough. At a table in a bar in Dublin Airport sits a father, mother and their 22-year-old son. The youngest of four children, James Kelly is about to board a flight for Australia as he enjoys his last few moments with his parents before a year abroad.
His mother Marie excuses herself and goes to the bathroom, but instead of returning to see her son walk through the departure gates, she just keeps walking to the car park. She cannot bring herself to say goodbye to her youngest born, who’s leaving Ireland in search of a new beginning.
“I didn’t say goodbye to him. I was like a zombie,” Marie Kelly told the Irish Voice in a recent conversation.
James Kelly’s story is similar to many young Irish people. Last May he qualified as a quantity surveyor. Unable to find work in his industry, he took a job in a local supermarket in Kill Co. Kildare.
Not disheartened, he continued to try and find work in a saturated job market. On one occasion he was refused an unpaid internship due to insurance laws.
“He couldn’t get any experience. He offered to work for nothing but they wouldn’t take him on because if they didn’t pay him he wouldn’t be covered by their insurance,” his mother told the Irish Voice.
James left Ireland just over six weeks ago with a group of friends from college, all in a similar situation.
At first the idea of leaving Ireland was an appealing thought for James, but when reality hit and the date for departure approached Marie admits it was an overwhelming time.
“It was terrific when he got the tickets but the week before it reality hit him. It was a daunting two or three days before he left,” says Marie.
James is hoping to get experience in Sydney in his industry which he hopes will benefit him when he returns to Irish shores.
As a mother it was hard to see him leave and as time goes on Marie just hopes that he won’t stay in Australia long term.
“When my older son Anthony went traveling we knew it was just for one year, but with the way things are here, I fear James may be gone for much longer,” she fears.
Olive Hennessy from Co. Kildare recently waved goodbye to her only daughter Aisling, who is currently working in Scotland.
“It’s awful, Aisling studied abroad, she didn’t want to go away again. She had to re-assess her situation,” Olive said.
A trained physiotherapist, Aisling graduated last year and managed to get a job in Ireland, but when the funding from the Health Service Executive ceased, so did her job. Content to be in gainful employment, she took a job as a nurse’s aide before she decided to emigrate.
“From my perspective it was, there she goes again, is she ever going to get work in this country? She had no wish to go but she had to continue with her career,” she added.
“It’s heartbreaking really, my concern is that she is away and will she settle away. She is only 22 and my only daughter, it’s very upsetting,” Olive told the Irish Voice.
Bríd Bergin has watched both her son and daughter emigrate in recent years. Her son Robert lives in Dubai and her daughter Emma lives in Wales. While Robert is content in Dubai working as a math teacher, it is her daughter, 28, who yearns to return home.
“She has wanted to come home badly but no opportunities have come up,” Bríd told the Irish Voice.
Emma is now doing her PhD but as time goes by she is becoming more unsettled as her friends leave and return home.
“Her network of friends gets more diminished as the years go and her life is in Ireland, but there is no hope of a job,” says Bríd.
“I think it’s wonderful to see all the educated going away and standing on your own two feet instead of the same old thing, but my biggest fear is that so many Irish out there will meet people and settle down,” she added.
Bríd’s only daughter left in Ireland, Katie, works as a teacher, and despite not having to emigrate has taken the brunt of the recent downturn also.
“Katie’s salary has dropped to less than when she qualified; she had to move out of her apartment because she cannot afford it. Out of class of 22 she is only one with a permanent job,” Bríd reflected.
Ann Kelly from Mayo found it hard when her twin daughters immigrated to London five years ago.
“I think the sadness in me is related to the culture and to the old stories from the west of Ireland and the frustration that these two highly educated and competent women were over there,” she told theIrish Voice.
Ann knew so many people from her own generation who were forced to immigrate to London to areas such as Cricklewood and Kilburn in the fifties and sixties.
“The next generation of Irish are now renting the flats that the Irish bought, and the areas are not run down anymore. But I still hate addressing letters to those areas as so many of neighbors had to leave,” says Ann.
While her daughter Deirdre returned to Ireland a few years ago, her sister Maura stayed in London and now cannot return to Ireland because of lack of opportunity.
“Her twin sister left it too late and now can’t get back and settle, she was there by choice and she stayed too long and cannot come back,” said Ann.
“She feels a lot of sadness and a lot of frustration that she now wants to come back and she can’t.”
This week in Ireland hundreds more people followed in the footsteps of these Irish emigrants, leaving behind them a country torn apart by political upheaval, corrupt bankers and greed. Most will prosper, some will return, others will settle, and slowly become tourists in their home country.
Leaving on a jet plane has never seemed so final for so many young Irish and the families they leave behind.
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