Ireland faces new wave of emigration

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Media captionTuam Cathedral is broadcasting services online for Irish people abroad

Emigration is so widespread in County Galway that one of the Catholic cathedrals has started broadcasting its services live online, so Irish people can watch in Australia and the US.

Tuam Cathedral is not just showing live coverage of Sunday masses and Christmas services, but weddings and funerals too.

"It's not just young people in their 20s who have had to emigrate, but also fathers who have had to go to England or other places to get work to support their families," says Father Sean Cunningham.

"I hope by putting the celebration of mass online, it can help people still feel connected with home."

Fight or flight

It is estimated that 42,000 Irish people emigrated last year - almost 1% of the country's population.

With the unemployment rate edging towards 15%, the same number is expected to leave next year, if not more.

Getting a job is a battle, and faced with the choice of fight or flight, many have chosen the latter.

In the village of Williamstown, in north Galway, dozens of young people have left. It has left a large hole in the community.

Walking down the main street, it is rare to spot a twenty-something male.

Image caption Many of the town's Gaelic football players have left for Australia

Somehow, the village's Gaelic football team has survived, in spite of losing many of its best young players.

Ten of them recently met up for a drink after work - in a pub in Perth, Australia.

Club chairman Leo Finnegan says life can be painful for those left behind.

"In the past 10 days alone, we've had 10 different community functions with different organisations. This is our way of fighting back," he says.

The happiest mother in Williamstown this Christmas is Kathleen Heggarty. Her son Shane, 20, turned up unannounced after 16 months working in Australia.

He told no-one he was coming home. He just knocked on the front door one morning, and his mother nearly fainted.

The bad news for his mother is that come January, Shane will be going away again.


Australia seems to be the most popular destination for those leaving Ireland. The unemployment rate is only 5%.

Plenty of work is available abroad in the construction industry.

Image caption Almost 1% of the Irish Republic's population left the country for sunnier economic climes last year

In Ireland, the property bubble burst along with the Celtic Tiger economy, and building jobs are scarce.

Ireland's international bailout means the Dublin government has been forced to implement a four-year austerity plan.

There is not much sign of economic growth, and although the Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny is promising to create thousands of new jobs, many young Irish men and women have run out of patience.

More than 500 left every week in 2011, and the new year is expected to see another mass exodus, especially to Australia.

Ireland recovered from similar downturns in the 1950s and 1980s, and the hope is that once the economy recovers, the latest "emigration generation" will return.

It may take a decade, but Ireland is hoping for a Celtic boomerang.

Shane Heggarty

20, living in Australia since 2010

You can't walk down the street without meeting someone you know. There are so many Irish out in Australia.

You could be talking about 10 or 12 from a little parish like Williamstown out there in the same pub. It's mad.

I'd like to come back home some day. But not for a while. Probably in five or 10 years, if there's a job, I'll come back.

Kathleen Heggarty

Mother of Shane

You sit in church on Sunday and look round - every mother like yourself has somebody gone.

There's an awful lot of lads going from Williamstown alone. It's a small parish but there's a colossal amount of lads gone.

The youth is going, that generation is going. Hopefully they'll come back.

It would be terrible if that generation was lost.

Leo Finnegan

Chairman of Williamstown GAA club

Our panel would normally be about 25 in size. We would easily have that number of players away, if not more. Australia would be the main base for them now.

Ireland has bounced back and will bounce back again. We have fought against the economic problems with a great community spirit.

We know that our standard of living is relatively low - but we think that our quality of life is fairly high.

Sorcha Slattery

31, unemployed graduate, due to emigrate in 2012

Why am I trying to leave?

I think it's in Irish people's psyche - we've done it before, we've done it for 150 years. Since the famine, we've been leaving.

And the great thing about the Irish is that there are huge Irish communities in Australia, in America. Everywhere you go, there's an Irish bar.

You can't say that about Welsh people. When they go abroad, they're not going to find a Welsh bar.

Father Sean Cunningham

Organiser of online services from Tuam Cathedral for Irish emigrants

I would like to think that in some way they could feel connected with their home place, with something that is deeply rooted in them, and ingrained in them.

And maybe ingrained in the Irish psyche as well - to celebrate their faith, to be able hear the news from home and maybe to see familiar faces that they know and love.

Professor Gearoid O' Tuathaigh

Galway-based Irish historian

The loss, particularly, of a young, educated adult population is going to be enormous.

In a society, if a disproportionate number of the emigrants are from the young adult category, what's left is usually much more conservative, less adventurous.

It has a cultural effect on the society's general energy and capacity for innovation.

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