Last week, one of my closest friends moved back to Australia after a quick visit home. Since last summer she’s been working as a doctor in Australia and having the time of her life. She went out for one year and has decided to extend her visit, like many others choose to do. Fortunately, she plans to come home eventually. Another close friend of mine told me this week that she’ll be moving to Germany at the end of the summer, the date is set and she’ll soon have jetted off too. Out of my group of six close friends from university who graduated in 2013, we’re now scattered across five different countries. None of this is unusual, this is all part and parcel of the emigration trends which have been a major part of Irish life for hundreds of years.
Fortunately, my friends have more or less emigrated by choice. They’ve used their experiences and qualifications at home to start new and exciting lives abroad, in places where they can get better jobs and a better standard of living – at least for the time being.
Emigration has worked its way into all elements of Irish life, it’s nothing new. Over 80,000 people moved out of Ireland last year, and although this is a decrease on previous years it’s still a significant number of people choosing to up and leave in order to find something else somewhere else. There are stories of entire football teams booking onto flights to Australia, leaving managers at home struggling to field a team. There are stories of grandparents moving to Australia after having lived in Ireland all their lives so that they can be a part of their grandchildren’s lives. Emigration trends are showing that people are becoming more likely to settle and have families in the countries to which they’ve emigrated and build lives for themselves there, so there’s every possibility that Ireland will become the home that they visit rather than the home that they make for themselves. Although we have more options open to us than ever before in terms of emigration and travelling, it would be naive to suggest that it doesn’t still have an impact on those at home.
That said, we’re luckier now than ever we have been before because statistics are showing that people are now choosing to emigrate far more often than they do so because they feel that they have no option. We’re also in a far more fortunate position now because travel and communication has never been easier. Gone are the days of waiting weeks on a letter, of expensive international calls and, thinking even further back, the American Wakes where people said goodbye in the assumption that tickets were only ever one way. All these things have changed and it’s now easier than ever to stay in touch with those who are abroad, whether they’re travelling or working. As welcome as this is, nothing can beat meeting a friend for a drink, giving them a hug, or calling around unannounced for a cup of tea.
Of course I’m excited for my friends, I’m happy for them and admire their bravery as they pack up and head off for their next adventure. Just because I’ve never felt the travel bug in the way that they have doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate just how incredible an opportunity it is for someone to have these experiences. On top of that, on a purely selfish level, my friends scattering across the globe has given me excellent accommodation options on my holidays for the next while. This weekend my friend from University who now lives in Edinburugh will be playing host to the other five of us as we reunite for the first time in a year. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see us, but he’ll probably be glad to see us go too (we’re a messy bunch).
I don’t know if my friends are going to come home. In many cases they don’t know themselves. I think my friends are amazing for taking these chances and being brave enough to start a new life somewhere else. All the communication technology and social media in the world can only help, but it can’t make it an easy thing to do. So yes, our generation is lucky, we have opportunities, we have choices. It doesn’t meant that we don’t still miss those who are away.