Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Saturday, 21 May 2011 11:40 UK

Leaving Ireland, and returning as a tourist

Irish ferry
Many of Ireland's youngsters are heading to distant shores to find work

By Kieran Cooke
County Mayo, Ireland

As a new wave of emigration from Ireland gets under way, millions around the world - from European royalty to US presidents - are still proud to pay tribute to their Irish ancestry.

Two nearby bars, two events which seem, on the surface at least, very different.

In one, at midday, sits the immaculately turned out figure of Prince Albert of Monaco, enjoying a session of Irish music.

During the boom years we thought emigration had gone for good
Padraig, a graduate departing for Australia

The mood is upbeat. Those who cannot cram into the pub stand outside, cowering under umbrellas against the lashing rain, trying to catch a glimpse of the royal visitor and his glamorous South African fiancee.

Another bar and a young, red-faced man, a university graduate, is being wished good luck and safe travels by a large group of family and friends.

Despite the rapid downing of pints and singing, there is an air of slightly forced jollity about the place.

Padraig is leaving early next morning for a job and new life in Australia. By the look of things, he will likely be nursing a hangover on his long journey.

The link between the two gatherings is emigration, the issue that, for generations, has haunted the landscape of Ireland - particularly out here, in the west of the country.

Prince Albert's mother was the late Grace Kelly, the glamorous Hollywood actress who, marrying into the royal Grimaldi family of Monaco, became known to the world as the "fairytale princess".

Grace Kelly, circa 1955
Grace Kelly's grandfather arrived in the US in 1869 and had 10 children

Grace Kelly's grandfather emigrated from here in County Mayo to the United States in the late 19th Century.

Prince Albert has come to pay tribute to his Irish ancestry. His mother was obviously very attached to Ireland.

The Monaco royals still own the old family homestead, though now it is a roofless, dilapidated ruin, grass growing from its walls.

In the other bar Padraig talks of his strong attachments to his family, to Ireland, to the friends he is leaving behind.

"We call them Australia wakes round here," he says, big arms stretched round two of his fellow players in the local Gaelic football team.

"During the boom years we thought emigration had gone for good but now so many of my mates are going - there's dozens of them in Australia and Canada."

He slaps his two friends on the back. "What's the betting they'll be out to join me before long?"

When Grace Kelly's grandfather left Ireland he probably felt he was leaving for good. Now emigrants, with modern air travel, can return much more easily.

But still, for Padraig and the many thousands like him, leaving is often a deeply painful experience.

Deep anger

Outsiders are often surprised that in Ireland there have been few big demonstrations of anger - no Greek style riots - against the bankers and politicians who stand accused of bankrupting the country and of mortgaging the future.

Barack Obama
'Finding the Irish relations' is a well-known US presidential game

While some of the Irish might be fatalistic - saying the boom times were all a bit of a dream anyway and now normal service has resumed - under the surface there is deep anger - most of all at the way those it's felt have brought the country to its knees, have still not been held accountable.

An elderly man at the Australia wake leaving party says emigration is Ireland's safety valve.

"There'd be revolution around here if it wasn't for the habit of people going off to New York or London or Australia. It's like the kettle on the hob. Emigration lets off the steam. It's the way things always were."

So, there's something of a paradox: Padraig and others like him are leaving in their droves, while others - Prince Albert amongst them - are eager to come and discover their roots, proud of their Irishness.

There are millions around the world who claim some sort of Irish ancestry. In the US alone it is estimated there are more than 40 million of them.

Barack Obama is due to arrive here soon. "Finding the Irish relations" is a well-known US presidential game.

It seems Mr Obama's great-great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was born in central Ireland. It might be a tenuous connection but Ireland is claiming the US president as its own. The town where his ancestor was a shoemaker is being spruced up and there is a welcoming song:

"O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara,

"There's no-one as Irish as Barack Obama."

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All St Patrick's children
18 Mar 11 |  Northern Ireland
The new wave of Irish emigration
12 Jan 11 |  Northern Ireland

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