Immigration, and emigration, and an apology

I have an apology to make. Not because of anything I did on purpose, and not because of anything that I did with any malice or ill-will whatsoever. But I have been incredibly ignorant, and I want to apologise. Unreservedly.

It’s about immigration. And emigration. A bit of background for those of you who aren’t really connected to Ireland: since the mid ’90s, Ireland has become a place people immigrate into. It never really was before- in the ’80s, it was a place people emigrated from in their tens of thousands. But for my adult life up until the last year or two, Ireland has been a destination country. And I saw that as absolutely a good thing.

And you know something? It was. For Ireland. We benefited from all the awesomeness and diversity of many thousands of people from all over the world. Our society got the shaking up that it so desperately needed, we were forced to look outside our parochial little world and see things from other points of view. We got to share in the fruits of all the different expertise, experience and perspectives of the people who made their lives here. And, yes, we Irish had the privilege of getting other people to do the jobs we didn’t want to.

It’s a pity that we were so damned ungrateful, and my response until now has always been a rejection of that. If someone wanted to give out about Those Pesky Immigrants Stealin’ Our Jobs And Our Women? They got a hell of an earful, starting with No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish and ending up with Precisely What They Have In Fact Done For Us, Thank You Very Much.

But I left something out, and for that I want to apologise.

You see, recently I’ve realised something. In my eagerness to talk about how immigration is Bloody Brilliant for Ireland, I may have left some people out, and forgotten a major point. I forgot about the people coming here. And I forgot about the people they had to leave behind.

You see, I’ve always loved to travel. I’ve always loved to live in different places, visit places, spend a few months here and a year there, immerse myself in different places and meet new people. All that good stuff. It didn’t hit me until this past week that there is a difference- a huge one- between travelling because you want to, and leaving because you have no choice. It didn’t hit me until I realised that it already has hit us.

Poster for 7upfree's Bring Them Back for the Craic competition, offering a flight home to Ireland for seven people from anywhere in the world, for St Patrick's Day
Two things happened in the past week. I was taking a bus to the train station last week, and noticed the poster to the right. Bring them Back for the Craic. Seven flights home for seven friends from anywhere in the world.

Yes. We are a nation where all of a sudden, without noticing, it is expected that a very many of us will be able to think of seven people that they’d like to fly home for Paddy’s Day. I don’t remember that happening- but when I think about it, it’s so very clear that it already has.

The second thing happened last weekend. See, me and the lovely Amanda Harper have a thing. Every few months (or whenever we’re all in the same city and free, which can make it a little less often than that), me and her and a couple of other friends have a marvelous tradition of Entirely Nerdy Girls’ Night Out. And this week, one of our number is emigrating. So last Saturday we all headed over to one of their houses for an evening of food and delightful nerdery.

It didn’t hit me until I was there. I’ve been to loads of going-away parties in my time. But normally it was because someone fancied heading away for a year or two. Or they met someone positively delightful in a faraway land. Or they wanted to study overseas. Or they had always wanted to live elsewhere. Or they wanted to travel and see the world. Or their absolute dream job was elsewhere. Or even that they needed to move away to somewhere where their marriage would be recognised.

There’s a common thread with all of those situations. Even though there is always pain in loss, and we will always miss each other, there is joy there. The person leaving has found something that is awesome enough to be worth leaving us all for. They’re following their heart, or their dreams, or their itchy feet and insatiable curiosity. We miss each other, but it’s a gorgeous and rich thing that they’re going for.

This time didn’t feel so good. And this time is, I am growing ever more certain, the first of many. Many people who would have loved to stay, who would have loved to follow their dreams and curiosities and loves right here. People who have to leave not because of being pulled by the promise of fulfilment, but being pushed by the lack of any goddamned way to make a life here. Because it’s getting bad enough that leaving the people and places that you love, never knowing when or if you’ll be able to come back, isn’t as bad as staying.

So I would like to apologise. I want to apologise for saying that immigration is unreservedly a good thing. I want to apologise to everyone who has had to leave the people and places they love, never knowing when or whether they will see them again. I’m sorry to all of you who wished you could stay. I’m sorry to all of you who miss your family, miss your friends, miss your loved ones. I’m sorry to all of you who miss your home town. I’m sorry that I would ever belittle the sacrifices that you’ve made and continue to make. And I hope that you find a home, wherever it may be.

Oh, also: Amanda Harper posted about this too! Check her out!

Immigration, and emigration, and an apology

11 thoughts on “Immigration, and emigration, and an apology

  1. Gav

    I noticed the emphasis on emigration when I was over. The 7-Up ad campaign, a short documentary on RTE ( still available to watch here: ), an entire page in the Irish Times with emigration advice.
    I like to think I’m part of that ‘movement’ but my intentions were set well before the recession hit.

  2. 4

    The only bright side to it all is that eventually it’ll end. Eventually the country will recover and they’ll be able to come home. But by then they’ll be coming home to a place they probably won’t really recognise. I mean I’ve lived in Dublin for almost 4 years now and when I go home to Cork city I feel like a stranger so much has changed. Then try to imagine leaving the whole country for a decade or more and trying to find my place here again…that’s a thought that hurts.

  3. 6

    ps….the point of this is not lost on me, esp as someone who tried to immigrate to Ireland, and is now trying to immigrate to NZ for partnership reasons, in part, because my own country will not allow my queer lover into the country.

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