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Ireland's new exodus

By Sanchia Berg
Today programme

Gneeveguilla's gaelic football team in action
Many of Gneeveguilla's gaelic football players have upped sticks

Some 5,000 people are leaving Ireland every month, searching for work as the economy falters. One village tells of the social upheaval taking place.

Summer evening in the small village of Gneeveguilla County Kerry. Undaunted by the cold persistent drizzle, two teams of teenage boys in brightly-coloured strips charge around the pitch, sometimes kicking, sometimes carrying a football, occasionally kicking it over or into a goal.

The grass is dark green, well tended, smooth and dense as velvet. In the distance behind one goal is a dark mountain.

On the fence round the pitch are strung small signs advertising local businesses: Carmody Mouldings, Murphy's Trailers. In the shelter of a crude concrete stand are about 30 adults and children, cheering on their brothers, cousins and sons. "Come on Kevin!" "Colin - tackle him!" "Come ON Eamon!" they scream at the boys.

Gneeveguilla , population 230, is playing the local town of Killarney. They beat them by a decisive margin. This is the Gaelic Athletic Association, home of Irish football, heart of Irish rural life.

The village has a successful adult team too, but now the local GAA chairman Bill O'Riordan is worried about its future. In the last few months six members of the squad have emigrated to Australia. In all, 12 young local people have left.

x
Sean, John and Patrick are all looking to leave Ireland

Liam Murphy - of Murphy's Trailers - tells me that his sister was one of the emigrants. She called him recently and said she had found herself in a bar in Brisbane with no less than 42 other young people from the immediate area.
Sean, John and Patrick are all planning to join them. In their early 20s, they come from the Rathmore area: John and Patrick are carpenters, Sean is a plumber.

For months now they have not been able to find work. Here, as across Ireland, the construction industry has collapsed.

"It'll be tough enough leaving. When our friends left it was tough as well, but you have to understand there's nothing for us here," Sean says.

My fear is a lot of them won't come back.
Tom Sheahan TD

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," John volunteers, quoting his parents, "Get out there and live for yourself." He is already thinking he might settle there, come back for a visit once a year.

He seems confident - his friends a little more nervous - at the prospect of moving half way across the world.

Back at the GAA clubhouse, I met Goblait Carmody. Two of her three children have settled in Australia. She tells me it was her son, who lived at home before he left, whom she missed most. She is unsure whether he will ever come back.

Gneeveguilla GAA chairman Bill O'Riordan
Local GAA chairman Bill O'Riordan has recently lost six of his players

"He's very, very happy and he knows how things are here now and there's no point coming back here," she says. "He's a worker and I wouldn't like to think of him lying about in bed all day and being on the dole."

She is pleased that her other son is still in the village though. "He's getting married next year and he's got a house built here-- Thank God!-- so I think he's going to stay."

Despite savage spending cuts the Irish economy is still in a critical state. There is a massive deficit, the economy has shrunk, and the government has yet to pay billions of euros into the "toxic bank" it created to soak up bad loans.

Unemployment has risen from about 5% to 13% and shows no sign of falling. Unless, of course, the workless leave. And that is what appears to be happening.

Tiger cubs move on

The state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that, in 2010 and 2011 combined, 120,000 people will leave Ireland. Some will be Eastern European workers going home, but increasingly young Irish people are going too, heading for Australia, Canada, the UK - America if they can.

"My fear is a lot of them won't come back," comments the local TD - the Irish equivalent of MP - Tom Sheahan, a member of the opposition Fine Gael party. "I don't believe that our economy will turn around sufficiently in the next five to six years to bring them back."

He believes many of his young constituents will settle abroad - as young Irish people have done for generations, leaving their parents and grandparents behind.

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Goblait Carmody: Two of her three children have emigrated Down Under

But this wave of emigration risks hitting the villages especially hard. In the past, families in this area tended to be large - Tom Sheahan himself is one of nine children. He tells me of a local woman, now in her 80s, who had 23 children, so not all would leave.

This time, when Irish families are smaller, it seems almost an entire generation are heading out of Rathmore parish.

When - during the boom - Ireland started to import, rather than export, people it was a cause for national celebration. For so long the country had been defined by emigration.

After 150 years, give or take some short periods of growth, the model seemed to have changed. Unlike Old Ireland, the Celtic Tiger could keep its cubs.

So the return of mass emigration is a bitter prospect for many. Even though it may keep the unemployment figures down, those cubs seem to be on the move once more.




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