Waving goodbye to their children at the airport as they go off in search of a new life abroad. It could be years before they see them again.
As emigration became a necessity for thousands of Irish people, they started seeking out new places and found that Canada was happy to throw open its doors to those in search of work.
Last January a group of five graduates were gathered at Cork airport surrounded by their family and friends. The five had made the decision to make a new life for themselves in Toronto.
The five — Wayne, Ciara, Marian, Barry and Dave — had finished degrees at the Cork Institute of Technology and found themselves working in bars, hotels, sports shops and even a casino.
Gathered at the airport that day was nine-year old Alannah, who was there to wave goodbye to her big sister, Ciara.
Ciara Gilbert, 23, from Cork said her little sister found it very hard to understand why she had to move away. Next to her was Dave Tett’s little sister, Hollie.
“My little sister is the youngest, she’s seven and the only girl so she is treated like a princess and saying goodbye to her and my little brother was pretty tough,” he said.
“As the eldest of six kids it’s hard to be away because I don’t want to be ‘the brother who lives in Canada who we see maybe twice a year’. I want to be a big part in my youngest siblings’ lives so that’s why unless I get a good opportunity I will be going home,” he added.
Twenty-three year old Dave, from Passage West in Cork, arrived in Toronto in January with an honours degree in business from CIT in his back pocket. Before he left for Toronto he was working at the Bank Casino on Father Mathew Street in Cork.
“Myself and my friends came to a decision to move to Toronto as we heard that the Canadian economy was doing pretty good in comparison to our dismal economy. So we said why not,” he said.
Dave and his four of college friends all live together close to the city. They pay about €400 each a month for rent and they all have jobs in companies in Toronto.
Dave said he would “absolutely” move back to Ireland if the economy improved.
“I think one of the biggest differences between Canada and Ireland is that the Canadian government is full of intelligent people who know what they are doing. They didn’t destroy their country or bail out their banks like that power hungry Fianna Fáil party who forced me, and thousands like me, to leave our shores in search of proper opportunities.”
One of the first things any Irish person who arrives in Toronto does is attend an initiation meeting organised by SWAP, which is a company that helps emigrants settle in Canada.
Irish people turn up along with those from other parts of the world to get as much information as they can on how they can make a new life for themselves in Canada.
According to Irish emigrant, Edel Horgan, 29, the Irish at the meeting were very noticeable as they “meant business”.
“People turned up in jeans and T-shirts but most Irish people were dressed in suits. They meant business. People from other parts of the world came to Toronto on working holidays and they weren’t too bothered about finding proper work but this wasn’t the case with the Irish there.
“Most Irish people come to Toronto because they can’t get a job at home and they want to use their time in Toronto to advance their career so that they can go back home and give themselves a better chance of finding work,” said Edel.
Toronto is not too different to Ireland. Eating and drinking out is expensive. The weather is cold.
“It’s a very multi-cultural place and I have never felt out of place here. The Canadians are very welcoming,” said Edel, who is working as a brand executive with a large marketing agency.
Although Toronto is a great place to be for young people, many Irish are there because they were left with no choice. It is expected that as many as 11,000 Irish people will head to Canada to find work this year.
Manager with Visafirst.com, Edwina Shanahan said they have noticed a spike in inquiries since the beginning of the year with permanent applications to Canada up more than 50%.
“With the depressed jobs market here in Ireland, more and more people are recognising that Canada has one of the strongest economies of the G-8 countries and is world-renowned for having the best standard of living.”
She said Canada as a destination has soared in popularity over the last number of years and Canadian employment rose for the second consecutive month in January, with a gain of 69,000 jobs. “It’s not difficult to understand why so many Irish people are flocking there. Canada is also relatively near to Ireland, it’s English speaking and Irish qualifications are recognised by Canadian employers which make finding work easier,” said Ms Shanahan.
Aoife Hennessy, 32, from Naas in Co Kildare has been in Toronto almost a year and works in human resources with a credit control firm. She was unemployed in Ireland before she left and decided to move as she wanted to see what another country could offer her that Ireland couldn’t.
“There is no talk of a recession here and no negativity. I have no immediate plans to move back to Ireland. It is unfortunate to say but I don’t think Ireland has much to offer at the moment.
“I miss Ireland, I miss my family and friends and do get homesick from time to time,” she said.
Aoife said she was heartbroken leaving her family and friends but she said she was left with no choice given the way the economy is in Ireland.
“I did not want to be struggling, I wanted to enjoy a good quality of life and be happy,” she said.
“The Irish community over here become your new family and everyone looks out for each other,” she added.
Alannah McMahon of the Irish Chamber in Canada said Canadian companies are very favourable towards the Irish and are impressed with their hard work ethic, positive attitude and their ability to fit into Canadian culture relatively easily.
“Of the well-established ex-pat community it is clear to see how well the Irish have done. Most have leading positions in their respective companies,” she said.
Irish people arriving in Canada shouldn’t expect to just walk into a job however, she said, adding that finding the right job can take time.
“The time of year would also come into play. The new year is a good time to come over as companies have renewed budgets.
“Canada is a nation that is not only welcoming to the Irish but to all cultures. Most Canadians have a history of immigration at some point in their family history so they are understanding of the challenges we face,” she said.
The Irish Chamber regularly holds networking events to help the Irish integrate into Canadian life and network with their Irish peers.
Marian Sheehan, 23, from Cork is the second member of her family to leave for Canada in the last six months. She has a business degree and couldn’t find work in Ireland but is working as a fraud analyst in Toronto.
“I do think I will move back to Ireland eventually. I have family back home that I don’t want to miss growing up,” she said.
Despite this she is enjoying life in Canada.
“Accommodation is good as are restaurants and food. There’s more of an active lifestyle here,” she said.
“We have met lots and lots of Irish people over here. They are difficult to avoid. There’s a lot of us over here,” she said.
Also from Cork is Camilla Bastable-Ahern, 24, who was working in a call centre and had a weekend job in a radio station before she left for Toronto.
“Toronto is different from Ireland in every way. People are very positive over here and you get a sense of reality on how big the world really is.”
She is working at an online marketing company and said she would move back to Ireland when the economy picks up and she can get a good job.
“I will probably move home in two to three years. I miss Ireland a lot. I miss my family and my friends. However, if they all moved to Canada in the morning I would never go back.”
Camilla’s friend, Wayne Speight, 25, from Cork is working as a business analyst in a financial company in Toronto. Before he left Ireland he was working in a bar and he said he is grateful for the experience is he getting abroad.
“Currently I have no plans to move back in the foreseeable future. I will of course visit. Ireland is home and it always will be. I miss my family and friends. That was probably the toughest things about moving away. Saying goodbye at the airport was heart breaking. And there were five of us leaving the same morning so it was like an entourage of tears,” he said.
Most Irish people in Toronto want to come home eventually. Many are angry with the Irish Government, at times they are lonely but they are making the most of what they have been faced with.
Edel said: “It can be hard over here at times when you think about your family and friends at home but for many it’s either making a life here or standing in a dole queue each week at home.”
*DAVE TETT, 23, Cork
THANKS a whole bunch for forcing me out of my own country because you couldn’t provide opportunities. Karma’s a bitch. Let’s hope this new shower of politicians are not as idiotic or greedy and make it possible for me to come home and be with my family where I belong.
* SARAH ANITA MOLONEY, 21, Tipperary
I’D say it’s high time ye quit the popularity contest and just do what’s right for everybody. Nip the dole in the butt and get people out there working doing the odd jobs, sorting the country out from the bottom up. If we can’t get the small stuff right not much hope we’ll sort out any of the rest of it.
* AOIFE HENNESSY, 32, Naas
WHAT’S the point? They don’t listen to the people who live there as it is.
* MARIAN SHEEHAN, 23, Cork
CREATING a situation where ye help fund education at varying levels and then export your recent graduate talent to other countries due to a lack of opportunities is ridiculous. The severe imbalance in the country with tax exemptions for artists and the likes, and the banks being bailed out due to years of greed and mismanagement, while childcare funding and SME funding is cut is creating an image of the country that’s shameful. The Celtic Tiger died a long time ago and due to our Government burying their heads in the sand and refusing to take any major action until the country began to fall down around them we now find ourselves in this situation. I hope the Government are proud — they took a fine long summer break last year to reward themselves for their hard work all year — while the country continued to crumble.
* DENISE HUGHES, 35, Donegal
MAKE it better so that there isn’t a brain drain.
* CIARA GILBERT, 23, Cork
I’M ashamed when I tell people about the economy and explain how we got into our current economic situation. I feel ashamed of the Government.
* CAMILLA BASTABLE-AHERN, 24, Cork
I HAVE faith that Enda will sort everything out for us so we can get home and use our degrees in our own country.
* BRITISH AIRWAYS flies daily from Cork, Dublin and Shannon to Toronto via London Heathrow.
Flights are reasonable and are priced from about €400.
You can expect good treatment in the British Airways economy class with two meals and a choice of about 100 movies.
The flight from Heathrow is about seven hours.
What to do when you get off the plane:
* Visit the SWAP office in Toronto to get your social security number. SWAP is an organisation that helps immigrants to settle in Canada.
* Head to the bank and open an account — you can use the SWAP address temporarily for this. You will need your passport to open an account.
* Buy a mobile phone.
* Get online and start looking for accommodation.
* Make changes to your CV putting in your Canadian mobile phone number and address.
* It is recommended that people bring about €5,000 with them if they are moving to Canada.
* Rentals usually start on the 1st of each month so plan the trip accordingly.
* Hostels are a good starting point for people travelling over and a great way to meet other immigrants.
* Invest in a subway card as it’s a great way of getting around.
* TD Canada Trust bank are very welcoming to immigrants.