“Thousands are sailing, Again across the ocean, Where the hand of opportunity, Draws tickets in a lottery,” goes the second chorus from The Pogues’ song ‘Thousands are Sailing’ from 1988. While that song has its basis in the emigration history of the past, it is pretty relevant today with the most recent release of information from the Central Statistics Office.
Yesterday’s release showed that 89,000 people left Ireland last year, a 2.2 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.
In three weekends’ time, 82,000 people will pack Croke Park for the All Ireland final, many thousands of them from Mayo, and plenty of them home from abroad for the final in the hope of seeing history, and a good number of these will be coming home having left Ireland during previous emigration explosions in the 70s and 80s. Joining them will be a good few of the latest to leave their homeland in the hope of a better life. But just getting back to the numbers game, the 82,000 that will take their seats or stand on Hill 16 will be still 7,000 less than the 89,000 who left the country last year.
The headline figure of 89,000 when broken down shows that 50,900 of those who left were Irish people, up from 46,500 the year before. While 55,900 people did people did immigrate into the country, only 15,700 of these were Irish people who had packed their bags and come home. But how long will they all wait? When you take into account the number of young people who come home after two years in Australia or a year in Canada, only to hop back on a plane a short time later to try their luck somewhere else, which is becoming a more and more common sight in this day and age.
The UK remains our biggest port of call with almost a quarter of all who left these shores making the short hop across the Irish Sea, while the golden shores and mines of Australia saw 15,400 of our sons and daughters make it their home, for the time being.
When all the figures of people who people left Ireland and those who came here seeking opportunity are added up and taken away, Ireland lost a net 33,100 people last year. It is slightly down from last year’s net figure of 34,400 but whatever way you look at in the past two years there are 67,500 fewer people here than were two years ago.
Husbands and wives are trying to keep it together while living in different countries to try and make sure that the mortgage is paid. Mothers and fathers are Skyping with one child in Australia and another in Canada, or watching grandchildren grow up through a computer screen. It is the nightmare rather than the dream that we all had in the recent past, when we thought numbers like those would not be seen again. When John Healey penned ‘No One Shouted Stop (The Death of an Irish Town )’ in 1968, he could have hardly imagined that 45 years later, we could be looking at history repeating itself all over again, as thousands are sailing and flying all over the globe once again.