The Process of Reinvention of Self: The Experiences of Returning Irish Emigrants

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Irish migration at the end of the twentieth century encompasses complex and multidimensional processes. Whereas Irish emigrants were once drawn almost exclusively from the agricultural and laborer classes, in the closing decades of the twentieth century emigration came to permeate the entire social system. Thus, Irish migrants are to be found not just among the ranks of skilled and semi-skilled labor, but also among the transnational professional elite that crisscrosses the globe. Current migration trends suggest a radical departure from the pattern that has characterized Irish demography for more than two centuries. Nowadays, more people are entering Ireland than leaving, bringing the country’s migratory profile more into line with its European partners. Indeed, Irish government agencies are currently engaged in campaigns to recruit non-national immigrants in key labor market niches and to attract Irish emigrants home. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of nonnationals seeking asylum in Ireland over the last ten years. The study of migration and its meaning in the context of the unprecedented buoyancy of the Irish economy directs us to new concerns about multiculturalism, immigration policy and practices, Ireland’s position in the global economy, and the relationship between the Irish diaspora and the homeland. This article is based on a set of qualitative interviews involving a crosssection of emigrants who left Ireland in the I980s and returned in the I990s. Particular attention is paid to their motivations for leaving and their experiences abroad in terms of professional and personal development. Analysis of the data reveals that these returners have been able to exercise considerable autonomy in terms of making decisions about their careers, and that in many instances they have used their time abroad to reinvent themselves in terms of their professional career trajectory. Yet, they are drawn back to Ireland in a quest for “community” and better “quality of life,” both of which have become more elusive in the fragmented and deeply individualized society that underpins the “Celtic Tiger.”

Author(s):Mary Corcoran
Publisher:Irish American Cultural Institute
Publication Date:23 Jan 2009
Geographic Focus:Ireland
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