An emotional family scene at Dublin airport.Photocall Ireland

Dublin Airport January 1st: There were no cameras to witness the sadness of young emigrants departing from parents and loved ones to go back to their emigrant lives after the Christmas break.

Terminal Two At Dublin Airport on New Year’s Day is a lonely place, the Christmas lights still shine but the piped-in carols sounds tinny and the hectic bustle and Santa shuffle is gone.

Instead the many farewells form the backdrop to a miserable and wet Irish day outside.

It is a sad and very familiar scene as parents, often elderly embrace one last time the boy or girl they bore, nurtured loved and lost to emigration. They are going where their parents cannot follow and it is a lonely place for all of them.

In some cases there are grandkids involved, fashionable in their Christmas present winter outfits but unable to understand why Daddy and Mammy are crying.

It is a timeless scene repeated down through the generations in Irish history as millions said farewell to the land of their youth.

Somehow it never ceases to shock me. Many I know are voluntary emigrants but the majority I feel are  driven from Ireland by the same relentless economic forces be it Famine or a financial armageddon that overtakes the country in almost every generation .

I always have a wry reaction when unemployment figures start to descend in Ireland. Some government minister anytime in the last eighty years will say it's a sign the economy is improving. Not really, it just means that people are leaving and no longer counted on the unemployment rolls.

The cameras and reporters were there of course for the joyous homecomings, a beautiful moment as the sparkle and promise of home for the holidays became a reality for thousands of family when the arrival gates flew open and the emigrant children rushed out.

Now comes the payback, the sorrow of returning. The people I am witnessing this New Year’s Day are going back to America and Britain mostly.

In Dublin airport, grandmother Mary Tobin from Dundalk hugs Niamh,10, who was returning to New Jersey after the holidays. Credit:

In Dublin airport, grandmother Mary Tobin from Dundalk hugs Niamh,10, who was returning to New Jersey after the holidays. Credit:

What is amazing is how little times have changed. You could have witnessed the same farewell scenes anytime in the last 50 years since air travel back home became a real possibility.

Before that, of course, there would have been the American wake, when the person leaving was likely never to be seen again and family and friends gathered for a final heartbreaking goodbye.

When the latest recession hit Ireland the emigrant boat and plane provided the ballast to lift the country out of that recession.

It came at a high cost. The loss of brain power and potential is truly staggering, not to mention the cost to the taxpayer of Ireland for all that education, now benefiting any number of other countries.

Every 30 years the exodus trend manifests itself --1920s, 1950s, 1980s and 2010 -- with a relentless reality that underscores how little ever changes.

Of course emigration for those who want to leave is a question of choice, but for so many who depart it is an involuntary experience, not one they want to undergo.

There is an ambivalence about emigration in the Irish psyche, a sense on both sides of  the issue of unease. There have been many wonderful changes for the better in Ireland, a far more tolerant political consensus, an excellent education system, a far greater sense of looking outward than in-- but emigration continues to cloud the horizon.

You will get crackpot theories that the island is too small to sustain so many which is nonsense, Manhattan has twice the population of Ireland in a 13.5 mile long island, for instance.

The fundamental question remains as to what to make of a country that fails in its primary task of cherishing its people equally and giving all an opportunity.To its credit,  the current government is now seeking to bring emigrants back home saying there is finally jobs in the improving economy.

It will be interesting to see if many emigrants take it up. The right to live and work in your own country is a deeply important one. It would be hugely encouraging if Ireland ended involuntary emigration.Whether that can be achieved will be clear soon enough and it will manifest itself in the departure gates of every Irish airport next January.