In the noughties, you left because the sites had dried up, the economy gone south and half your Junior A team-mates were already getting tans in Brisbane. You got a lift to the airport in your parent’s Octavia, wearing blue jeans and your county jersey, and took a 777 to a new life and a place Down Under or in Dubai. Others took the boat to England.
In the eighties, you left because there was zero employment for your age group and hadn’t been for years. You travelled to the airport in your folks’ Fiat 131, wearing blue jeans, a denim jacket and big hair, and took a 747 to a new life and an apartment in Boston or the Bronx. Others took the boat to England.
In the sixties, you left because you were the fifth child of eleven kids on a family farm with no long-term prospects. You made it up to the airport in your oul pairs’ Triumph, wearing a suit and tie with an occasional mini-skirt or flare, and took a 707 to a new life on camp in Canada. Others took the boat to England.
Any time before the sixties, you only took the boat.
While I can’t do justice to all the stages of emigration our people underwent over the past three centuries, the Ulster American Folk Park just outside of Omagh can. Here, in an open-air museum, those three centuries of Irish emigration are illustrated, with more than 30 exhibit buildings that take the visitor from the thatched cottages of home, on board a full-scale emigrant sailing ship (sans the typhus) to the log cabins of the American Frontier. Led by the actual people who took these journeys (or maybe just well-versed and -costumed actors), the full Irish emigrant experience is retold in authentic detail.