New thinking needed on emigration

 Every speech, every outside TV News report on the death of the Celtic Tiger has evoked the memory of the coffin ships and Danny Boy.  Emigration keening has been a strong element of the Irish identity. Professor Wickham of TCD gives it a more positive complexion.  The time to think about emigration differently is long overdue. The difference of view lies in whether emigration can be thought of as a last resort or an opportunity.   As entry is unrecorded I’d like to know what the figures are for shifting over to Britain. Given the extent of internmingling, easy mobility and shared experience, does it make sense any longer to apply the term  “emigration”  to  a lifestyle where you can reach home in either island in a couple of hours?

 Says the good professor

The most recent estimates published by the Central Statistics Office indicated 27,700 of 65,300 emigrants recorded in the year to the end of April 2010 were Irish.

The test of whether Irish migration would become mass emigration would occur this summer, when a new generation of students will leave university, he said.

“We should learn lessons from the recent mass emigration from Poland, when people were treated as traitors for leaving. This created dissatisfaction. But I’ve seen no sign of that in Ireland, which has a good record of welcoming back emigrants,” he said.

Prof Wickham said the concept of a “brain drain” caused by emigration is giving way to a more modern concept called “brain circulation”, whereby people tend to move countries more often before returning to their home state.


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  • Framer

    I wonder where all these emigrants are going so quickly and easily? The UK is the only option where you don’t need to apply for a visa etc (i.e. USA, Australia, Canada) which can take months.

    Yet the UK jobs market for graduates, particularly, is saturated.

    I suspect the emigrant numbers are folkloric and part of the south’s over-reaction to their economic crisis.

    The ending of the boom and bank bubble in which most were complicit will take a long while to sort out but many of that economy’s fundamentals are sounder than the UK’s.

  • Kevin Barry


    True, it does take months to get a visa for places (I know from my own experience) but people are very savvy on immigration processes nowadays and are willing to wait to get a job.

    Some go back to Boston, NY or elsewhere illegally, Australia and Canada aren’t too difficult to get visas for a year or two and let’s not forget the continent either. Being a fluent English speaker is always a big draw, and before the fact that many don’t speak a continental language is brought up, depending on where you go and what you do a second language may not be a prerequisite (eg, finance legal say in Lux or Switzerland).

    Also, regarding the UK’s economy and Irish moving across the water, you’d be surprised to know that for some, just leaving what is a massively depressing state in one country to go to one just as bad is sometimes a step forward. It’s a pain to move anywhere (getting a job, a house, making new friend etc.) but it is also quite exciting.

    For many like myself, I had always intended to leave Ireland to see a bit of the world and then come back, but it’s awful in Ireland at the moment and I know of many planning on or are leaving.

    Good post btw Brian, I think this is how many nowadays think of emigration.