“Keep Australia warm for me,” friends joked as they hug each other goodbye at the end of the night, not knowing when and where their paths will cross again.
At first, these going away parties were just a good reason for a night out. I wasn’t complaining about time spent with good friends - but it wasn’t until the parties stopped and I was sitting at home on a Friday night that it dawned on me. I was one of the only ones of my peers that hadn’t left Ireland in hopes of a better life abroad.
Perhaps appropriate to quote an American president following the visit to Ireland, by President Joe Biden last week. On his presidential visit to Ireland in June 1963, John F. Kennedy said: “Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold, or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people.”
According to UCC, no country in Europe has been as affected by emigration over the last two centuries as Ireland. Approximately ten million people have emigrated from the island of Ireland since 1800. Once it was boats leaving Cork Harbour, from the famine times - which was then upgraded to an Aer Lingus flight following the recession. Now, just like my friends who said goodbye in the banner strewn local pubs, young people are yet again seeking a new life down under in their droves. Bondi beach has become the new Garretstown.
But why? I have never personally had any ambition of living in Australia. My pale skin burns to a crisp in the sun, I don’t have any motivation to take up surfing and am not personally a fan of deadly spiders lurking in my house. Despite this, I have found myself asking ‘why not’ a lot more of late.
Having recently finished my education, I took the traditional route of entering the workforce and gaining experience in my chosen profession. I was lucky enough to find a good job and thought that was the hard bit over. I was wrong.
God forbid, the mixture of cold and lack of nutrition makes you sick, because the healthcare system here is also a shambles.
Now, no one is saying Australia is some kind of Utopia. Moving abroad doesn’t answer all your problems, but it comes to a point where you catch yourself thinking “it can’t be worse than here.”
In a recent Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) meeting held in Cork, the recruitment of teachers was a major issue that was discussed over the three-day conference.
“Recruitment of teachers is now a problem for all kinds of reasons,” said Donal McElligott the TUI Area Representative Cork.
A TUI study on the scale of the recruitment problem showed 91% of Irish schools were experiencing teacher recruitment difficulties, while 61% admitted they had problems retaining teachers. In all, 71% of schools surveyed said they had advertised positions over the previous six months for which no teacher applied.
Recently a secondary school teacher spoke about our young teachers moving to Australia on. He described his profession as “getting more and more challenging” due to the rising cost of living and said that he completely understood why so many of his peers are willing to make the move.
“It’s definitely very lucrative in relation to what’s being offered. Great opportunities, and I always said as a country, we’re great at educating people but, at the same time, we’re just as good at getting them to jump on the next boat or plane,” he said.
Similarly, I know others who have sought refuge in the likes of Dubai, teaching over there on a tax-free salary, while the rest of us are punished by the taxman for working two jobs. Even though that’s all we can do to survive.
In secondary school and college, you are trained in skills for the workplace and how to find a job. Colleges and universities in this country are now welcoming more and more students, handing out degrees like a conveyor belt. But no one tells you that your entry level salary won’t even keep a roof over your head anymore. Holding my certificate over my head would nearly be a better way to protect me from the rain.
Sure, the weather in Oz is definitely a plus but ultimately the call from Down Under sounds less like sun and surf and more like a sigh of relief. How can Ireland continue to suffocate its youth and then wonder why there are no teachers, no nurses and no future?
Having studied abroad for a period myself, I have seen how other countries treat their young people. They are nurtured and have hope of a promising future, not left frustrated and wondering how long they can continue on like this.
Right now, for many, it is sink or swim and it seems swimming far and fast is the best option on this sinking ship.
Ireland will always be home. I will always love it here, as will my friends and others across the country who packed their suitcases with a lifetime supply of teabags and said goodbye through teary eyes at the airport terminal. Sadly, as the saying goes, ‘love just doesn’t pay the bills’.