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Wave of Irish emigration to Australia keeps growing

An increasing number of Irish are moving to Australia on the promise of jobs aplenty — again.


"Education has been free in Ireland for a long time, so these are highly skilled people," said Ryan, who emigrated from Ireland 40 years ago. "They're different from the people who went to England and the US in the 1950s."

In Far North Queensland, the northernmost part of Queensland, the Royal Hotel at Ingham has for the past year played host to several waves of Irish workers providing labor for a major highway upgrade in the mountains of the Cardwell Range.

Sharryn, who works at the hotel and asked to go only by her first name, said she enjoyed the workers' presence, describing them as "really great. Really extra 'specially good. They were like family."

New-wave Irish immigrants find work in Oz 

Keith Kearns, a 23-year-old carpenter from County Sligo in Ireland's west, said he moved to Brisbane with his Irish girlfriend at the first opportunity.    

"There's no work at all [in Ireland], so that's why we're here," he said.

Since arriving in 2011, Kearns has extended his one-year visa. He has been home once to see his family in that time, and despite finding it "tough leaving" again for the 28-hour journey back to Australia, he decided to stay on in Australia.

Dwyer, also a carpenter, missed the age cut-off of 30 for the one-year working visa. However, so determined was he to secure a better future for his kids, a girl and boy aged 9 and 12, that he took the less traveled route of arriving in Australia jobless and searching for an employer to sponsor his stay.

"Look, none of us want to come. The difficulty is that we feel we have to. I know of a lot of guys who are illegal here — they've come for three months trying to pick up a sponsorship ... and they've stayed illegally."

Dwyer went home for a visit over Christmas, and his 12-year-old daughter cried at the airport when he had to leave.

"[In Ireland], there's no chance of employment no hope of playing the bills. People are finding themselves living in a house they can't afford to pay for, with a family they can't afford to feed and people are frightened," he said.

Jason White, a 25-year-old surveying graduate is unequivocal about his reasons for relocating to Brisbane with his Australian-born girlfriend in early March: "Australia's become the new American Dream," he told GlobalPost, describing how many of Ireland's younger generation were looking Down Under for a chance at a better, more financially secure lifestyle, just as generations before them looked to Boston, New York and beyond.

White said that when he finished his university course in Ireland, "for every one job there were something like 67 people going for it. Word on the street was that in Australia, everyone was working in the mines making fortunes, working on farms making fortunes."

But the reality in Australia had not quite matched the hype, White said. Many construction employers wanted more extensive qualifications and more hands-on experience that an unemployed university graduate can offer. "I've applied for about 15 jobs in construction, but also basic restaurant work, bar work and the like. I haven't heard anything back," he said.

Nor are all Australians kind to the genial Irish backpacker generation, most of whom arrive armed with in Australia on "working holiday" visas.

An ad posted recently on the Australian version of Craigslist — Gumtree — caused a diplomatic incident of sorts by stating: “Bricklayer needed ASAP. $250 a day, no part-time workers and NO IRISH.”

Ryan puts this down to the over-enthusiasm of young Irish workers who, when they can't find a job in their field of expertise, will apply for several they know nothing about just to get working.

Then there are the headlines — these from the past year alone — reminding the young and Irish that Australia can be a life-changing experience, though not always for the better: "Young Irish tourist drowns during Whitsundays scuba diving trip"; "Irish tourist dies on Great Barrier Reef"; "Backpacker drowns while swimming Melbourne’s Yarra"; "Irish backpacker awarded $560,000 in damages after farm accident"; and last week, "Irish tourist Georoid Walsh dies after attack at Coogee."    

Dwyer, the carpenter, has chosen to stay on in Australia, but he's far from romanticizing the country as a panacea to all his problems.

He's even kept his position as a paid local councilor in his town of New Ross, Ireland, raising a few eyebrows at home. He said the distance has not stopped him from faithfully representing the good folk of New Ross — with the help of email and social media.

"At home, most of my constituents would have contacted me via Facebook anyway," he said.