Last year, the Geography Department and the Institute for Social Sciences in the 21st Century at University College Cork carried out a detailed study into emigration. According to the report: “Every generation of Irish society in the last two hundred years has been touched by extensive emigration. With the onset of the economic crisis and Ireland’s subsequent bailout, this generation is no different.”
The survey indicates that over 75 per cent of the Irish population believes emigration is having a negative effect on Ireland today. Similarly, two thirds feel that their local communities are being negatively affected by recent emigration.
The results were generated from over 900 responses from households scattered across Ireland, including some 1,500 responses to an online survey on emigration, 500 responses to a jobs fair survey, and 55 in-depth interviews with emigrants abroad.
The report states that “the results of this research have highlighted how complicated a topic emigration is, and how nuanced individuals’ experiences of emigration can be. There exists no ‘typical’ emigrant, and no single set of circumstances or experiences that can be described as being typical of Irish emigrants today.”
The following are some of the key findings from the research project:
“Today’s emigrants are much more likely to have a high standard of education than the population in general. While 47 per cent of Irish people aged between 25 and 34 hold a tertiary qualification of three years or more, 62 per cent of recent Irish emigrants hold the equivalent qualification, suggesting that graduates are over-represented amongst those leaving.
“Over 17 per cent of Irish emigrants worked in Ireland before departure in construction or a construction-related industry… Contrary to what many people might expect, 47 per cent of today’s emigrants were, in fact, employed in full-time jobs before leaving… Emigration continues to have a greater effect on rural parts of Ireland than on urban areas. At least one household in four in the most rural areas has been directly affected by the emigration of at least one member since 2006.”
Skype, Email and Telephone Calls
The report stresses the importance of social media and the internet for emigrants. Over 70 per cent of emigrants use Skype and telephone calls to regularly maintain contact with family and friends in Ireland. Over 90 per cent of emigrants use Facebook and other social media sites to keep updated.
Commenting on the report findings and other aspects of emigration, Mr Piaras Mac Éinrí, Director of the Irish Centre for Migration Studies at UCC, said emigration started in earnest from Ireland well before the famine. After the famine, however, emigration became the default option for many Irish people, which Mac Éinrí believes shouldn’t be the case.
“Emigration has become almost an automatic option, such that people who thought they had no future in Ireland saw it as normal and natural to leave it,” he said.
“We also had a number of English-speaking countries we could go to… So, in a sense, its something that has always been there as a normal life choice, which wasn’t the case for other countries,” said Mac Éinrí, who added that emigration is not something that just happens—it is the result of poor government policies.
According to Mac Éinrí, we have traditionally seen individuals’ emigration as a means for them to better themselves. However, the decisions these individuals make are based on complex social decisions.
“If a location is known as a place that others have gone to, then others are more likely to follow. For example, a lot of people from Achill Island went to Cleveland, Ohio, in the late 19th century. People don’t emigrate to places they know nothing about—most go where they have contacts and where they know people,” said Mac Éinrí.
He said that people tend to keep going to the same locations unless something changes to make it more difficult, such as policy changes in the USA after 9-11, which forced the shift to Australia and Canada for many Irish emigrants.