Young Irish trying their luck abroad

The 16-nation euro currency zone is beset by fissures between strong economies such as Germany and weaker ones such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal, which risk being engulfed by historic levels of government debt.
The number of Irish nationals who emigrated from Ireland increased by 50% last year.
The Washington Post
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 12:11 AM

IN MONAGHAN, IRELAND The rolling emerald hills of the Irish north hugged the horizon, unfolding in patches of grazing sheep and the twinkling lights of distant villages at dusk. On a prime spot in the valley below, Paddy Prunty and Julie Mullin stood on a plot of land covered with a cement slab - the foundation of what was meant to be their new home.

After Prunty lost steady work, construction of the house stopped last summer. Now, as he gestured toward the graceful view, a question that would not have occurred to Prunty and Mullin only a few weeks ago preoccupied them both: Would it be this beautiful in Edmonton?

"We don't know what to expect when we get to Canada, but I know I'll miss this view," said Prunty, a 26-year-old carpenter who recently landed a job in Alberta, prompting the couple to apply for Canadian visas.

Prunty's sister left for Australia a few weeks ago. His best friend is packing his bags to build a better life in Sydney, too.

All of them are joining a wave of Irish who are migrating from hard-hit shores in numbers not seen in years, reopening a chapter of emigration that Ireland hoped it had closed.

"We didn't get the house built. Didn't have the work. Couldn't get the mortgage," Prunty said. "But we'll be back, you know. Maybe even after a year."

"Oh, who you kiddin', Paddy?" said Mullin, 25. "You know it's going to be longer than that. One to five years, at least."

Prunty looked down at his well-used sneakers, lost in thought.

Mullin touched her fiance's arm. "We'll be back for the wedding," she said. Looking up at a foreign journalist, she clarified. "That's October 2012. We've got the deposit down already. We'll do the wedding back here in Ireland.

"But then," she said, "we'll go back. Maybe we'll like it there. People stay, you know. Lots of Irish have done it before."

Luck, as of late, has abandoned the Irish. The "Celtic Tiger" that during the 1990s and 2000s appeared to escape repeated cycles of economic distress has sunk into a financial hole so deep that the near-bankrupt government on Sunday sought a multibillion-dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

Without doubt, these are hard times. The financial crisis that hit in 2007 has made itself at home. A crash in property values that started four years ago shows no signs of abating. Some Irish homes have lost 70 percent of their value. Just as in the United States, many families in Ireland owe banks thousands more than their properties are worth. Unemployment is above 13 percent. Earlier this year, the change in gross national product slipped back into negative territory.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company