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    Emigration won’t dilute human capital, says Davy analysis

    Friday, February 19th, 2010
    emigration (people leaving). Second, a high proportion of those who
    have left are low-skilled and worked in construction where employment
    has more than halved. Construction, by its very nature, is a highly
    labour-intensive and low-productivity industry. Workers tend to be
    mobile, and emigration from this sector will not particularly dilute the
    quality of human capital in Ireland. Moreover, the nascent recovery of
    the international-traded sectors will keep many of our graduates at
    home. Longer-term, investment in education must remain the salient

    An analysis from Davy has gotten a lot of news attention today.  The research report into the Irish economy says that we wasted the boom, and issues a damning verdict on how Ireland misallocated its investment from 2000 to  2008, resulting in poor infrastructure with inadequate roads, rail, schools, hospitals and telecoms.

    One area where the report is suprisingly reassuring, however, is in the analysis of emigration.

    This analysis of our capital stock has one glaring omission: human capital. Looking to the medium term, this is Ireland’s greatest strength. The economy has the highest number of graduates in the 25-34 population in the EU-27, with the exception of Cyprus. That proportion (and its average quality) may depreciate somewhat if recovery does not take hold and emigration accelerates. But so far the outflow through emigration has been hyped while ignoring the mix.

    First, net inward migration has turned negative mainly because immigration (people coming to Ireland) has collapsed rather than due to a surge in emigration (people leaving).

    Second, a high proportion of those who have left are low-skilled and worked in construction where employment has more than halved. Construction, by its very nature, is a highly labour-intensive and low-productivity industry. Workers tend to be mobile, and emigration from this sector will not particularly dilute the quality of human capital in Ireland.

    Moreover, the nascent recovery of the international-traded sectors will keep many of our graduates at home. Longer-term, investment in education must remain the salient priority.

    I would dispute the assertion that there has been no surge in emigration. The emigration figures from Ireland were up 43% between 2008 and 2009, and up 145% between 2004 and 2009.  The new phenomenon, of course, is that the majority of emigrants were going to the newer countries of the EU, and were thus presumably immigrants returning home.  This is obviously not the same thing as suggesting there has been no upsurge in emigration.

    The characterisation of the current emigrant outflow being comprised mostly of construction workers and therefore not “diluting the quality of human capital” rests uneasily with me. First, I’m not aware of recent studies that break down emigration by occupational sector (please let me know if you know of any), so I’m presuming this is based on anecdotal evidence.  There appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence asserting, however, that it is not just manual labourers but also third-level graduates who are leaving. (In today’s Irish Times alone, for example, two graduates tell their emigration tales.)

    It’s also at odds with the Tanaiste’s recent comments that emigration today is comprised of those Irish young people who are emigrating “to gain experience” and “want to enjoy themselves’ and  are leaving “with degrees, PhDs. They are people who have a greater acumen academically and they have found work in other parts of the world.”

    So on the one hand, we are reassured that we need not trouble ourselves with the upsurge in emigration because (a) it’s really not happening and (b) it’s not going to lower the quality of our labour force, and on the other hand, we need not trouble ourselves with the upsurge in emigration because these are highly educated people “who want to enjoy themselves”.

    Obviously, this is a complex issue. We’ve heard very little of ‘brain drain’ with this upsurge of emigration, because the model of “brain circulation” has largely displaced the concept of permanent loss in migration thinking. We know from the boom that networks of well-educated Irish people can be an asset for our economy, no matter where they live, and many of them may eventually return if there is a return to substantial growth.

    In terms of economic costs, emigration’s toll may not be all that harsh. Obviously, in the short term, emigration is a tried-and-true safety valve; sending off surplus labour will save social welfare money, and relieving the pressure on the unemployment rate will certainly make our economic performance look better on paper. And each unemployed person who leaves is one fewer potentially angry voter when it comes to election time.

    But involuntary emigration carries very high potential human costs, and any analysis that does not take those into account is not looking at the full picture.  Davy might call it  “hype”, but the concern over rising emigration rates reflects Ireland’s long experience with a phenomenon many of us thought was gone forever.

    See the report on the website

    First Irish history of Missouri available on audio download

    Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

    Following my post mentioning the first history ever written on the Irish of Vermont, I received a note from Mike O’Laughlin, an accomplished Irish-American genealogist and historian, who informed me he’s the author of the first book on the Irish of Missouri.

    Missouri Irish began life as a hardcover but is now available as an audiobook from

    It looks particularly interesting as the history begins in 1770; eighteenth-century Irish immigration to the US is a story too infrequently told. Here are the notes from the table of contents:

    Part One
    1770 – 1804. Irish Settlers in the Spanish Regime…
    Indian Mounds and Tara Hills.
    Immigration…Religious Ties and Conflicts…
    West vs. East …
    The First Irish-American Settlement in the Bois Brule Bottom.

    Part Two
    1804 – 1900. The First Irish Americans
    Pioneer Journalists … Mexican War … Steamboat Irish … Indian War
    …The Famine Irish … Murphy’s Wagon replaced by the
    Railroad … Slavery … Civil War Irish.

    Part Three
    Irish Immigration and Distribution
    Irish Settlements in Missouri … City vs. Farm .. Population by County
    … Irish Settlements …O’Fallon Missouri … Donnybrook …
    Moving on from Missouri

    Part Four
    The Irish in the Cities.
    Saint Louis… Brady & McKnight … O’Connor… Mullanphy ..
    The Kerry Patch … Kansas City…. First Newspaper …
    Father Bernard Donnelly … The first Irish in Kansas City …
    The History of the St. Patricks Day Parade …
    The Shamrock Society … A.O.H. St. Joseph and Buchanan County…
    On the overland trail

    Part Five
    The Irish Wilderness Settlement
    Rev. J.J. Hogan … Lifestyle … Chillicothe … Brookfield … Ripley
    and Oregon Counties … Iron Mountain Railroad.

    Part Six
    My Irish American Heritage.
    The Sullivans, Donahues, Buckleys, Irish American Development.

    I hope that this is a trend and we’ll see histories of the Irish in all fifty states of the US!

    Visit – host Michael O’Loughlin has been working on Irish family history and genealogy since 1978!

    Oral histories

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    There has been a wonderful trend in recent years of collecting emigrants’ oral histories. Many of those contributing their memories are elderly, and these books, films and websites are an invaluable record of the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people, many of whom have extraordinary stories. Know of any other oral history projects? Drop me a line or fill in the comment box…


    Irish Oral History Archivea reference archive and resource for the contemporary and historical spoken narratives of Irish people at home and abroad, especially as they relate to the story of emigration. Luton Irish Forum – a variety of individuals detail their moves to England

    I Only Came Over For a Couple of Years… 2005 – Interviews with Irish elders in England who arrived between the 1930s and 1960s. (Half-hour documentary, £7 plus postage and packaging)

    Irish Elders Now project

    Dunne, Catherine. An Unconsidered People: The Irish in London. Dublin: New Island, 2003 – a book detailing the experience of older emigrants.


    A story to be told: Personal Reflections on the Irish emigrant experience in Canada (book)

    Memories of the Past: Reflections from Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In group – a collection of memories and recipes

    United States

    Archives of Irish America – Interviews with a range of notable people in the New York Irish community, discussing their life history and sense of identity.

    When Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again – the stories of 35 people who moved to New York between 1927- 1964. Available as both book and DVD.

    An Irish (American) Story (film, 1997) – The 96-year-old grandmother of the filmmaker recalls her emigration as a 17-year-old in 1911.

    The Gathering: Collected Oral Histories of the Irish in Montana – Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, this project is based in the University of Montana.

    Irish Dance in Arizona – Tracing the history of Irish dance in the American southwest since 1942.

    Crossroads Irish Oral History Project Archives of the San Francisco Bay Area – Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the project looks at the Irish and Irish-American communities of the San Francisco Bay area.

    Molloy College – documenting the Irish of Long Island and the greater New York area.

    University of Notre Dame – Director of Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology Deb Rotman is working on a developing an online archive of Irish-American oral histories.


    The National Library of Australia – has a number of Irish-related recordings in its oral history catalog.

    New Zealand

    National Library of New Zealand – has several oral history collections; contact them for Irish-related materials.

    Global and Irish-based

    GAA Oral History Project – recording what the GAA has meant to the Irish people, in their own words.

    Breaking the Silence: Staying at home in an emigrant society – examines the impact of emigration on those who stayed through 78 oral narratives and 12 text contributions.

    Returning to Ireland

    Narratives of Migration and Return – Stories of returning emigrants

    Coming Home: “Stories of young men and women who left Ireland and, after many years in exile, closed the circle of emigration by coming home again? – produced by the Safe Home project – also see their True Lives page.

    “I Only Came Over for a Couple of Years” records experience of London Irish

    Monday, May 11th, 2009

    Yet another oral history project detailing the experience of elderly Irish emigrants has come to your correspondent’s attention. “I Only Came Over for a Couple of Years”, a documentary that was completed in 2005, is now available on DVD from the Irish Studies Centre of London Metropolitan University. The film is a collection of interviews of Irish elders who came over to London between the 1930s and 1960s.

    The DVD is a production of the Irish Elders Now project, which is aimed at building a substantial video and oral record of a generation of Irish migrants to Britain whose stories and experiences have been underrepresented in other official records.

    For more information and to order the DVD, visit the Irish Studies Centre website.

    Ringsend native publishes memoir on American life

    Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

    Angeline Kearns Blain, a woman raised in 1950s Ringsend who today is an adjunct professor of sociology at Boise State University in Idaho, has published a memoir. “I used to be Irish” is being lauded by critics for its insight into a story too little told: the experience of Irish women emigrants.

    Angeline Kearns Blain left Ireland at the age of 18 in 1957 to become the wife of an American soldier she had met at a Dublin bus-stop.  The streetwise young woman had been consciously focusing on Americans as romantic targets in order to escape her working-class life as a cinema ice-cream seller. After settling in New England with her conservative, Protestant husband, she eventually settles in Idaho Falls where her husband gets a job at a government nuclear research facility. She would suffer a nervous breakdown and a marital breakup before turning to education and a career in academia.

    The Irish Independent says “Her memoir is extraordinary, told with blunt honesty and scathing with. It’s a long way from the flats in Ringsend to being a professor at an American university”.

    The Irish Times review notes the subversive nature of Kearns Blain’s story:

    I Used To Be Irish exposes both the gender and class fault-lines not traditionally attended to in accounts of emigration: Kearns Blain’s overtures to a fellow Dublin woman emigrant marooned alongside her in a backwater town are spurned when the Loreto College graduate in question discovers that Angeline left school at 14 to scavenge dumps. The memoir upends the popular image of the Irish emigrant, that of the raw country boy pining for rural simplicity in a debauched foreign land: Kearns Blain is a streetwise Dubliner who knows enough about American popular culture to initially act the pure Irish colleen to beguile her GI, a teetotaller Puritan who later winces each time Angeline lets slip some obscene Dublin colloquialism or orders a shot of whiskey.

    Angeline Kearns Blain has also written a memoir of her Dublin childhood, called “Stealing Sunlight”.

    See related web pages:

    Emigrated between 1975 and 1995? Researcher seeks you

    Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

    I’ve had a request from a graduate student seeking information from Irish people who emigrated to the US between 1975 and 1995.  Here is the information:

    Survey for Irish emigrants to the United States between 1975 and 1995

    Thank you for taking the time to do this survey; it will be an invaluable source for my term paper.

    I am collecting these surveys only for use on my term paper for Alan Kraut’s spring 2009 Immigration and Ethnicity class at American University in Washington D.C. They will not be used for any other purpose and at no point will the name of the respondent be associated with their response. Feel free to skip any question you do not feel comfortable answering, or email for a clarification at

    If at all possible please return your survey to me via email (an attachment, or in the body of the email either is fine) by April 4, 2009.

    Once again thank you very much for taking the time to do this survey

    Emma Lang

    Basic Information

    Age at time of emigration:


    Education level at time of emigration:

    Year of emigration:

    Did you come to the U.S. legally and/or did you obtain a visa either before or after you arrived?

    Number of years spent in the United States (please note here if you have settled permanently in the U.S.):

    Hometown and county in Ireland:

    Destination in the United States (If possible if you moved to a large city please tell me what neighborhood or area):

    If you lived in multiple cities in North America between when you emigrated and 1995 please list them here:

    On average how many times a year did you go back to Ireland (I know this is a complicated question due to the rapidly changing visa policies so you are welcome to give an explanation)

    Your story

    (please feel free to write as much as you want in response to these questions, since I’m not surveying a statistically significant number of folks I really just want your stories so I can understand the what it was like to move from Ireland to the United States during this time period)

    Why did you decide to emigrate and why did you choose the United States as your destination?

    What types of jobs did you work at between your arrival and 1995?

    Did you connect up with family or friends already living in the United States? If so, how long had they been living in U.S.?

    Did you join or participate in events of any Irish organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians or county organizations or other groups (including the church or sports teams)?

    Did you join or participate in events of organizations aimed at new immigrants such as the Irish Immigrant Reform Movement (IIRM) or groups aimed at helping to adjust to live in America?

    How would you describe your relationship with the Irish American Community? If you are still living in the United States has the answer changed?

    Anything else you think I should know or be sure to include in my paper?

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