Emigrated? How’s yer mammy?

Because I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again..
Because I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again..

Irish mothers are more likely to be depressed if their children have emigrated according to a new report by Trinity College’s Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).

The new report shows that the mental health of Irish mothers is suffering as a consequence of their children emigrating during the recession.

It also shows that these mothers experience increased symptoms of depression and greater loneliness than mothers whose children did not emigrate.

The researchers found, however, that with the exception of fathers aged over 65, fathers did not suffer an equivalent decline in mental health following the emigration of one or more of their children.

In the year ending April 2006, 36,000 people had emigrated from Ireland, emigration numbers hit 89,000 in 2013 and are still rising.

These high rates of outflow meant that a large number of TILDA participants saw their children emigrate.

Dr Irene Mosca of TILDA says that the report shows the effect on those left behind:

“Emigration is often discussed in terms of the people who leave, but our study shows that there are also real impacts on the people left behind.”

“There is a narrative out there that this was a recession that impacted on young people, as negative equity and debt primarily affects young people,” said Alan Barrett of the Economic and Social Research Institute, who co-authored the study with Dr Irene Mosca.

“But we have now identified a group of older people who have suffered a mental health difficulty as a result of the recession, because of the emigration of their kids… Mental health difficulties often develop into physical health difficulties, so the massive increase in emigration in recent years has public health implications.”

Some Irish mammies who were left behind when their children emigrated spoke to The City about how they are coping.

Margaret Hennessy saw her son hop the water to London in search of work as did Elaine Keoghan’s daughter, while Kathleen McCormack’s son James went further afield to Brisbane to work on the pipe lines.

When Kathleen found out her son was moving to the other side of the world in search of work she said she felt “sad and broken-hearted. I knew I was going to be lonely. James and his wife, Ursula, were only supposed to be going to Australia for two years but that soon changed as they found good, well paid jobs and started a new life together over there. They are there almost four years now.”

“I still miss them so much, especially now that they have just started their family over there. It was heart-breaking not being part of that. As any mother would I wanted to be there for my son on the birth of his first child, but physically I just couldn’t. I Skype them all the time but it’s just not the same as having them home”

“Whenever I think about the huge distance that’s between us and all that he is missing out on, I just start to cry. I think it’s a maternal thing. Luckily, I have three other children at home, and grandkids too, so I am kept busy. I can only imagine what it would be like for a mother with only one child having emigrated, their whole life torn away.”

Una Nannery, 53, took a different approach. With two of her sons gone to Australia she was fed up of being lonely and depressed so three years ago Una, her husband Eugene and their youngest son Ciaran packed up their bags and followed their two older sons, Brendan and Declan, to Melbourne.

“‘The main influencing factor for our move was unemployment, as Eugene had no work for two years previous to our move and had no prospects of getting anything.  Also, the fact that both our eldest sons had already emigrated and were starting families here influenced our decision in a big way, we were stuck at home missing out on the most important time of our son’s lives and we missed them terribly.” So Una upped and left Ireland and hasn’t looked back since.

“We are living in Melbourne now, in a lovely suburb called Ivanhoe.  There are many Irish over here for the same reasons as us.”

So how does life on the other side of the world compare to home? “There’s a much better standard of living here in Australia. Eugene is working full time and on a good wage, I’m not working and we still are way better off. The weather is a huge plus also. Life here compared to life in Ireland is similar, in that during the week it’s the usual routine of work, school etc.  The main differences are work and the weather.” Una continues “Living day to day is similar here to Ireland.  Depending on the supermarket you go to and the brands. Meat is dearer here; chicken and lamb are a lot more expensive. However petrol is cheaper. Clothes and footwear are expensive.  Both eating out and alcohol, like home, can range from expensive to fairly reasonable depending on the areas you are in.  A pint of lager is $7.00 that would work out pretty similar to Dublin pub prices.”

Speaking about the work situation Una says “There is plenty of work in the building, mining, and general outdoor work. Men seem to get work easy enough. It seems harder for women, but yet not as hard as at home. There are good agencies here, so the ladies get sorted after plenty of interviews and that, but can take 3 to 4 weeks.”

Emigrating is a tough decision to make, no matter what age, says Una “Emigrating is ok if it is for the right reason, but right now it is the only option for many.  But yes, I would tell all young people to travel, as it really is the best experience and learning curve in any person’s life.  Ciaran is living proof, also the older boys. They love it here and have adapted so well. For me, well I’m just happy to have all my family together again.”


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