The high cost-of-living in Ireland as a driver to leave Irish shores was repeatedly mentioned in our analysis of 48 blogs written by Irish people living all over the world. Housing and healthcare were highlighted, but also the costs of public transport, education and childcare.
Other reasons to emigrate were for better employment and educational opportunities overseas. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is also a driver, with Irish people who don't want to miss out on home ownership, or employment and education opportunities moving abroad.
The personal blogs showcased that many Irish are moving overseas to take up opportunities which were simply not available in Ireland and for a better quality of life and lower cost of living. The more reasonable cost of living abroad in comparison to the excessive rents at home, specifically in Dublin (if one is lucky enough to find somewhere to rent or buy within their price range), is too attractive to ignore. Being able to rent an apartment in a city overseas for less than what they would pay for a room in student accommodation or shared accommodation in Ireland is a definite plus.
Besides the affordability concerns of living in Ireland, the opportunities on offer overseas were also evident. Scholarships for PhD students abroad were mentioned as a pull to move overseas given the lack of these in Ireland. Those opting to take up full PhD scholarships in other countries are doing so rather than be financially unsupported PhD candidates or on scholarships valued at less than the minimum living wage in Ireland. Fear of missing out is evident here too, with people looking beyond Ireland as to what is available elsewhere.
The healthcare on offer abroad also motivates emigrants to stay abroad in terms of both quality and cost, with Canada and Australia mentioned as far superior to the Irish situation. There are also considerable differences in terms of childcare costs: creches in Mallorca are cited as only costing around €400 to €500 per month. Similarly, many Irish are impressed by the quality and affordability of public transport in other countries, with easy access to work, education, and home, while also reducing commuter-time hell. For instance, a monthly public transport ticket in Lyon costs €25 for under-26s.
But FOMO also pulls Irish emigrants back home. Family and friends in Ireland remain an important part of an Irish migrant's life long after leaving and come top of the list of things most missed by the Irish diaspora. While some may not move back to Ireland, geographical proximity to the homeland is a draw to facilitate more cost effective and frequent visits to enjoy special family occasions.
Being unable to help family and friends at home due to being away provokes guilt. Living abroad means difficulties associated with travelling home for funerals, births, weddings and other important milestones. This is the case in places such as Australia due to distance.
This is amplified when the emigrants have children and want their children to have a good relationship with their grandparents and cousins. Living abroad has meant family members have missed seeing their family grow up. Parent bloggers were upset that their children had not seen their grandparents in a long time, or, in some cases, ever. In some blogs, family was mentioned as the only reason the emigrants would return to Ireland: missing out on nearby family support is sorely felt, drawing some emigrants home despite the better quality of life abroad.
This was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic where some bloggers living abroad shared their constant worrying about their family in Ireland getting sick or dying due to Covid. It highlighted how important family is and how fragile life as we know it can be. While social media allows regular contact between migrants and home, the inability to return for visits during the Covid-19 lockdowns left a lasting mark on many.
The physical distance between the Irish diaspora and Ireland was heightened in the Covid-19 era, with some emigrants unable to travel home to Ireland to visit sick family members due to restrictions on re-entry to their host country afterwards. Watching funerals over Skype from thousands of miles away was described as the worst thing in the world. Fear of missing out on and actually missing out on those last moments with their loved ones continues to haunt many.
To compensate for missing family and friends at home, many emigrants get to know the Irish community in whichever country or city they are in. Many of them even take on active community roles to deepen their cultural ties albeit from afar, for instance, by becoming members of the GAA in their area. Families back home can witness important moments in the emigrants' lives through WhatsApp or Skype, but it does not compensate for the real lived moments of togetherness, celebrating key moments or supporting each other in grief.
Dr Marian Crowley-Henry is an Associate Professor in the the School of Business at Maynooth University. Conor Cronin is a BBS Business and Management student at Maynooth University. This article orginally appeared in RTE's Brainstorm in July 2022.