Ireland’s woes bring Irish back to U.S.

Alisa Roth Sep 3, 2009

Ireland’s woes bring Irish back to U.S.

Alisa Roth Sep 3, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: For a lot of the 1990’s, the global economy was a pretty dynamic place. And no place was more dynamic than Ireland. You remember the Celtic Tiger? Low taxes made Ireland attractive for everything from high tech to construction.

And there was so much work, and it paid so well, that Irish who had come to the U.S. went back across the water, as they say. But Ireland has been hammered harder than most in this recession.

Yesterday, the government there released its August unemployment report. Nearly 12.5 percent of the population is out of work. That’s the highest in 14 years, and it explains why many of those who went home are coming back here again. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth reports from New York.

ALISA ROTH: If you’re Irish in New York and you need help, the guy to call is Mickey McCreesh.

I’d say every day, it’s probably two or three, two or three calls every day.

McCreesh knows people. He owns a nightspot in Queens called Bar 43. And during the day, he works at his brother’s construction company.

He says the people who call him are looking for whatever jobs they can get, in construction, bars, babysitting.

Mickey McCreesh: It’s got very bad at home. There’s not, there’s not a whole lot of work there.

The Irish have been escaping to America for generations. What’s different this time is that a lot of the people he’s hearing from have been here before.

McCreesh: We were here originally to live the American dream. And then things were good at home, you know, people were better paid at home than they were here. Since it started dying down, I’ve seen quite a few old faces coming back. And just all their stories are is that they couldn’t find work at home.

That’s what happened to Gemma and Kevin Dunne. I talked to her today while she watched their kids at home in Woodlawn. An Irish neighborhood in the Bronx.

The couple met in New York in the late 90s. She was waitressing; he was working construction. They got married and had a little boy.

In 2005, they decided to go back to Ireland.

GEMMA DUNNE: We wanted to go home, build a home and like make a career out of it. Kevin was building and selling. And it was great at the time, like.

Until the economy started coming apart.

GEMMA: And then work got so bad that he was out of work, and there was nothing he could do like, there was no money he could get or anything, so we decided to move back.

This past June, her family helped them pay for the move.

GEMMA: It was heartbreaking because I’m from a family of 21, and we were living with them all up in the same town, so it killed me leaving all of them behind — you know, with all the babies being born and…

Now that they’re back, she says it feels like they never left. A lot of friends are still here. And a lot are following them back from Ireland, too. Her husband found a job working construction in the city.

But a lot of Irish haven’t been so lucky. And that’s what’s different about this emigration. Things might be bad in Ireland, but usually there’s work to be found in other countries.

Paul Finnegan works at the New York Irish Center, a community organization that helps new immigrants.

PAUL FINNEGAN: They’ve also been traveling to Australia, they’ve been traveling all over the world as always. And what’s very bleak about these times is it’s not like Ireland is suffering, and there’s other opportunities elsewhere.

He says it can be hard to find a job in New York, too. And like Mickey McCreesh, Finnegan gets calls and e-mails every day asking about prospects for work here. He tells them they might want to tough it out in Ireland a little longer before they get on plane.

Gemma Dunne says she and her husband didn’t have a choice. They have two young sons to support, and they still have mortgage payments to make.

GEMMA: I’d love to be going back for good, but I’d say we’ll be here for another few years anyway. Til we get back on our feet.

And until Ireland get back on its feet, too.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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