Portraits of the Irish Leaving Home - documenting the departure of Irish emigrants


Will you go back to Ireland? I’ll be going back because my visa is only for a year. Whether there will be anything for me to go back to is a different story though.

Connor McMahon
Originally from: Dublin, through and through.

Why did you leave Ireland? I lived in Dublin for forty years and will always love the city and its people – it’s my home, for better or worse. That said, I feel it is not actually Dublin I have left but more so Ireland, at least in the Celtic Tiger sense of it. Before all of that, I can remember a relative material contentment, and a much greater sense of neighborhood – both locally and internationally. To me, these things represent two of our biggest losses these last few years. And cynically I choose to believe that these two same things are never to return.  

Where are you now? I am in south London, right on the edge of the city. Here, at least, I am close to the countryside, which makes it a little easier. I miss that most about Dublin: how quickly you can get out and up to Howth, or for a long windy stroll on Portmarnock beach. I don’t like London much, but I find it does have its compensations.

What are you doing? I was fortunate enough to have had the option to move from a contract-based role in Dublin, where I worked as a designer for a multinational firm, to a very similar – albeit permanent – role within the same organization at their offices in Surrey. Also, I pursue my career as an artist and musician, and London, of course, is as full of potential in that regard as any other city of its size and vibrancy in the world. 

Did having to leave come as a shock or was emigration always a possibility for you? Admittedly there were other more personal circumstances that motivated my decision, but I had always felt it an option, regardless. As I said, I love my city and my country, but I could never shake the feeling, even from an early age, that those with whom we entrust great civic responsibility in Ireland ultimately prove themselves incapable and inept, and therefore sooner or later likely to fail catastrophically.

Will you go back to Ireland? I'll come back permanently if I'm seeing significant progress on the civil front. By this I actually mean a less neo-liberal and more socially engaged political regime who will – among other things – evidence to the Irish nation a greater concern for its people rather than its banking classes. I do remind myself however, that in fact I am only four hours away door-to-door via Gatwick. And so, with some planning, I'm over as often as is feasible, in the meantime.

Aoife McMonagle
Originally from: Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Why did you leave Ireland? I had been thinking about moving to another country for quite a while, and with my fixed-term contract coming to an end and prospects not looking so good at home, the timing just seemed right. My primary motivation wasn’t really to escape the economic situation, though it is probably a big part of the reason that I plan to stay away for perhaps longer than I originally thought.

Where are you now? I’m living in Toronto, Canada.

What are you doing? I’m working in marketing communications for an IT company, so I am working in my field.

Did having to leave come as a shock or was emigration always a possibility for you? As above, it was always something I had been thinking about, though at the time I didn’t classify it as “emigration” per se, more an opportunity to travel and work. Obviously the situation in Ireland does not seem to be improving, so I do plan to stay here for the foreseeable future.

Will you go back to Ireland? Obviously Ireland is still home to me, but I don't see myself going back for the next few years at least. After that it's hard to say, the longer you're away the less likely it is that you'll go back I suppose, but in my mind I still see myself going back someday.

Aoife O’Donnell
Originally from: Cork, raised in Kildare

Why did you leave Ireland? I graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology in June 2010 and found it near to impossible to find steady work. I was looking for any job – not just one related to photography, which is what I studied in college. I spent several months on social welfare until my friend said she was moving to New York City on a graduate visa. I did some research and found I was eligible to live and work in the United States for up to 12 months. Essentially, the reason I moved to New York was for personal adventure and to further my career, which was quite stagnant in Ireland.

Where are you now? I am located in Brooklyn, New York. It’s an incredibly vibrant place to live; a sort of sanctuary for anyone in the arts, as you are close to Williamsburg and Lower Manhattan. The energy here is quite palpable, which I find refreshing and inspiring as a photographer.