Australia replaces real estate as the main topic of Irish conversation -- Land Down Under beckons for a new generation as economy fails

Sydney Opera House went green for St. Patrick's Day.

Dublin -  If you came to Ireland a few years back the topic of conversation inevitably turned to real estate, no matter whom you talked with.

Now that topic is Australia.

Nothing signifies the shift in Ireland’s fortunes more than the new reality that emigration to Australia in particular is on the minds of millions of Irish.

Everyone seems to know someone who has a family member who has emigrated there or is about too.

In a restaurant in Meath on Friday an overheard conversation went like this.

“Not gone yet Down Under?” addressed to a mid-twenties young man.
“No off next week, thanks be to God.”

And so it goes.

 The mining boom in Western Australia in particular has meant that the geography of cities like Perth are discussed as intimately as Cork or Dublin.

A few years back the topic was the number of houses someone owned, how much they had escalated in value, and the latest overseas hot place to buy a second home.

The place to be seen was the latest housing expo featuring properties in Spain, Turkey, or pick your spot in America, especially Florida.

Now tens of thousands line up for hours waiting to enter job fairs for Australia and Canada, which finishes a strong second.

Some of the stories emerging from those fairs are tough to read with families splitting up, people re-emigrating, and especially older intending migrants, their lives in ruins after the bust in Ireland, getting out.

In a local paper here, a vox pop asked a dozen people what they would do if they won the lottery. Three said they would visit Australia to reunite with their sons and daughters who had moved there.

When my nephew Rory recently passed away he was prayed for in Sydney and Melbourne at masses there because of extended family connections there.

It is all part of the new reality or should that be the old reality?

I have often written that emigration waves from Ireland come every thirty years, the 1920s, 1950s, 1980s, and now again.

What I never predicted was that Australia would be the fulcrum of the new exodus.

Neither Britain nor America seems the focus this time. The British economy is only marginally better than Irelands and visa laws make it difficult to access the US.

Australia and Canada, because of restrictive banking laws, are also the only two major industrialized countries that avoided the worst of the banking and real estate boom and bust. Both countries also have massive natural resources.

China’s demands for natural resources and raw materials has fueled the mining boom in Australia and the Irish in search of work have gladly settled there.

Centuries ago the worst fate was to be deported from Ireland to Van Diemen’s Land and forced to work at penal labor. Read Robert Hughes’ classic account ‘The Fatal Shore’ to see just how awful conditions were for the Irish who were sent there.

Now they are leaving on jetliners by the planeload. Sometimes plus ca change.

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