Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Accidental Emigrant

Emigration is a major issue as Irish voters go to the polls next week. Thousands of young people are fleeing, others who planned to return are stranded overseas. This is my story.

Lehman Brothers collapsed the week we landed in Brussels.

Two weeks later the Irish government signed a blank cheque guaranteeing the debts of Irish banks. It seemed interesting but incidental to our plans. Bad news for bankers, we thought. Tough times for politicians too.

Good job we’re neither wealthy nor important. “Two coffees, a scone and a brownie please.”

We sat sharing a British broadsheet in a Belgian café staffed by mustachioed middle-aged waiters. The papers spoke of an economic earthquake but we observed it like an audience watching a grand drama unfold in high definition without realizing we were part of the play.

We were Irish expats. We were abroad by choice, having left a booming Dublin in 2007. Lap up a bit of foreign culture and head home when we’d had our fill. That was the plan. Little did we realise that the door leading back to Ireland was closing behind us.

Much has changed in the 30 months that have passed since then. A temporary spell abroad which could be wound up at a time of our choosing has morphed into an enforced economic exile, open-ended if not permanent.

We have emigrated. Accidentally.

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