The Emigration Chronicles: From Korea to Castletroy.

Shouts carry across the training field. Handpassing drills ongoing. The mandatory fella clad in a Kerry jersey. This could be any GAA pitch in Ireland. Except it’s not. It’s in Busan, South Korea.
Shane Clifford always wanted to travel after college. He’s no stranger to leaving these shores behind. After all, he spent six months in Ghana a few years back. One of the many reasons he chose South Korea was because he knew there were three GAA teams in the country. That gave him the chance to play football, a sport he has played for as long as he could remember at home in Renard, near Caherciveen.
Good call. He’s now chairman of Busan’s GAA team. Not bad for a lad of 22. He’s playing rugby now too, something he never took up back at home. He came up against Michael Considine in a rugby tournament on St Patrick’s Day. The lads lived together during the halcyon university days in Limerick. Mike’s teaching in Daegu now. The Clareman’s team won. They meet again in the GAA in a few weeks time. Shane does be thinking that revenge will be sweet.
It’s not all fun and games however, Shane has a job to do. He teaches English to Korean students. He’s not lacking in experience. Ghana was his first gig, then a summer seeing the sights of Italy while imparting his knowledge of the English language to the locals. Korea then is just another country in which to teach.
Shane in the Philippines. (Far right)
But it’s not just another country, according to Shane. “Culturally it is a fascinating country and it’s physically beautiful too,” he says. That’s what a lot of people say about Ireland too. Shane is keen to find a silver lining to the recession back home. “People are being forced to move out of their comfort zones and be a bit more adventurous. We were all fierce complacent during our childhoods in comparison to what our parents grew up with. This might knock some sense back into the silver spoon generation. But don’t get me wrong, people are under enormous strain and times are tough. I guess with what I’ve seen as recently as this year in the Philippines, I just find it hard to follow along with the ‘woe is us’ attitude,” says the Kerryman.
He mentions the Philippines, because he spent two weeks there just over a month ago. He’s been to Ghana, he’s seen poverty, but he hadn’t yet seen first hand the effect a natural disaster could have on communities. That all changed. He had planned on a two week “piss-up/sightseeing holiday”, but an opportunity to lend a helping hand arose. A few days before he flew out, he stumbled upon an NGO called All Hands Volunteers. They were working in a typhoon hit community in the southern province of Mindanao. Shane spent his first week working with them rebuilding houses, and says that the memories of the construction sites will remain with him long after those of the second week’s waterfalls and restaurants subside.
Shane doesn’t see a future for himself in Ireland in the short term. He’s thinking that five or six years down the line he might have reason to return. For now though, he doesn’t see the point in returning home to what is by all accounts a ghost town. Ireland’s loss is the world’s gain. Shane’s not done travelling yet. He’s just one more of what Michael Considine’s mother called the “lost generation”.
 It would be churlish to say that our entire generation has upped sticks and left however. Fiona Hogan and Catriona Delaney are two who have so far avoided the temptation of emigration. They are both undertaking masters courses in the University of Limerick, and both know what it is like to see a sibling walk through the departure doors at an Irish airport and have no idea when they would see them again.
Fiona’s brother Eoin, who played gaelic football at senior level for Limerick, moved to New York five months ago in search of work. For a very close family, Eoin’s move was heartbreaking. While they have adjusted somewhat, Fiona admits that there are occasions when his absence is keenly felt. “Before Christmas, we had an important family remembrance and obviously he was not here for it. He had been there for me to share in grief for the event and a real support and I suppose I kind of collapsed without him this year. I mailed him and told him I missed him but that is nothing compared to the comfort that one of his hugs would have given me. Christmas was also difficult. It was the first Christmas ever that our family had not been together for. Even though we are old and the magic of Santa has long since past, we still wait for each other to go downstairs on Christmas morning to open our presents. The same magic was not in our house this year. Instead, my mother placed a picture of him at our dinner table and put a place setting out for him. She said it was only a joke but I could tell it was giving her comfort. Bigger occasions like that, we miss him more, but I know he is thriving abroad so I’m happy for him.”

Fiona (left) and Catriona (right)
Catriona’s sister Sarah returns home this summer after a year working in a hotel in Geneva. She’ll be glad to have her back. Contacting her by Facebook or Skype just isn’t the same. “I was especially close with my sister before she left and although the social media has made it easier to stay in contact it’s never quite the same. I miss being able to hug my sister and no amount of technology is ever going to be able to fix that.”

While the two girls have both been affected by emigration within their families, they differ in attitude when it comes to the question of whether they will follow suit. Fiona is adamant that she will soon leave these shores. “I have already begun to make plans to follow by brother to New York next January after I graduate. Most of my friends have already left the country,” she says. “I have been in full time education for eighteen years now, and I will refuse to finish and work a menial job. I want to do something with my life. I want a flourishing career and the research that I have done suggests that that is just not possible in Ireland. Eoin is maximizing his life chances in America. He is reaching his full potential professionally so that’s where I will go to do the same. I will not let eighteen years of hard work go to waste in the hands of the greedy and foolish Irish government,” concludes the Caherdavin native.

Catriona takes a different perspective. She wants to be one of those who stays and drags this country out of economic mire so those her own age who have emigrated have a homeland they would be proud of once more. “I’m a home-bird through and through. I’d rather spend the rest of my days working in a deli in a small town supermarket, making breakfast rolls for the local drunks, than ever have to leave this country. It’s part of who I am and I am equally part of it. What hope have the future generations of this country got if every single one of its current young, enthusiastic and intelligent scholars up and leave because of economic difficulties? I reckon stick around and see it out. Someone’s got to be here to pick up the pieces and get things back on track. Why not me?”

Ireland needs a few more Catriona Delaneys.