The new emigration

Trinity News speaks to the students leaving Ireland in search of a better life

By many accounts, the story of modern Ireland is one of rags to riches. It is the story of a poor agrarian country on the fringes of Europe transforming into a highly-developed economy; from a dramatic bust in 2008 and a still more dramatic recovery from 2013 onwards, Ireland is, by GDP per capita, among the richest countries in the world. On this basis, an outside observer would be forgiven for assuming that the days of Irish people leaving in their droves to find a better life, were, at last, over. This, however, is not the case. According to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), emigration rose by 14% in 2022 with 64,000 people leaving the island. This increase was accompanied by reports from the Irish Youth Council that 7 in 10 Irish people between the ages of 18 and 24 are considering moving abroad. So what is the cause of this trend ? Why, in a country in which youth unemployment is a third of what it was ten years ago, are young people so keen to leave? 

Dublin after Trinity

This paradox is not lost on the Trinity students in the process of planning their escape: Careers-wise, I probably would be better off staying here,” said Josh (whose name has been changed) with a mirthless laugh. Josh moved to Dublin from Donegal to study PPES in Trinity in 2020. He now intends to complete a Masters degree in Paris where he spent a year on Erasmus. Though he recognises that his employment prospects in Dublin are good, he is very reluctant to stay in the city: “It never has actually managed to materialise into a home,” he told Trinity News. He described how his hopes of emerging into a vibrant Dublin post-lockdown were thwarted by the cost-of-living crisis in the city: “It’s very hard to live a young person’s life in Dublin,” he explained. The greatest pressures come from the cost of rental accommodation, but they don’t end there. Josh explained that “It is so expensive just to go out and socialise…you have to limit your social interactions based on your budget.” These constraints have left him worried that he will spend the limited years of his life in which one is supposed to be “off having the craic…working really hard, trying to climb the ladder.” 

Anna (whose name has also been changed), a final year European Studies student, has similar fears about life in Dublin after college. She told Trinity News how little the city has to offer her once her time in Trinity ends. Like Josh, she too spent a year studying in Paris and found that while life was still expensive, it offered much better “value for your money.” Anna is in the early stages of planning her move abroad, seeking out opportunities in a variety of cities and keeping her options open. As she has lived at home for much of her college life, she feels a move is essential to help her leave the 68% of Irish people aged between 25 and 29 who, according to Eurostat, are still living with their parents. 

“A big part of the sadness is that the whole community is kinda leaving and with that network gone there really isn’t much left for me in the place that is Dublin”

Both Josh and Anna painted a picture of post-college Dublin as  lifeless and dull: “My social network disappearing is a huge part of it,” Josh told Trinity News. He continued: ‘A big part of the sadness is that the whole community is kinda leaving and with that network gone there really isn’t much left for me in … Dublin.” Anna agreed: “the only ones that are staying here for definite are the ones that already have jobs lined up.”


This sense of exodus is not unique to this year. Trinity News spoke to two students from the graduating class of 2023 who have since left the country. For Fern, who wanted to pursue a Master’s degree having completed her bachelor in Sociology and English Literature, the choice after leaving college was really no choice at all: “I could work and have absolutely no social life for two years,” she said, “or I could move to the Netherlands and pay a fifth of the tuition fee that I would have to pay if I stayed in Ireland.” This frustration at the cost of education was echoed by Josh. According to, the average annual tuition fee for a Masters degree in Ireland is between €4,400 and €10,000. In the Netherlands, it is €2,143, while French public universities only charge €243.

The choice for Darragh, who also studied Sociology at Trinity, was similarly stark. Having moved back to Belfast after college, she left to pursue her “dream” internship with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. “I would bet my life that if I’d stayed at home I would still be working in my wee supermarket job,” she said, “Or I would have just settled for something that I wouldn’t have wanted. I would have just grasped at any job.”

However, for Darragh and Fern, educational and employment opportunities are  only half the story when it comes to moving abroad. It’s also about lifestyle. “I would never ever ever have this life if I stayed in Belfast or if I’d stayed in Ireland,” Darragh told Trinity News. Having lived either at home or with an Aunt in Dublin for much of her time in college, she now lives in her own space for what, by Dublin’s standards, is an extremely reasonable price: “I don’t have a shitty landlord. There is no damp on my walls.” Indeed, while neither herself nor Fern live in cities known for being cheap, neither find the cost of living to be as crippling as in Dublin. Much of this comes down to value for money: “It’s expensive to live here too. I’m not disregarding that at all,” Fern said, “but the benefits you get for that money that you’re paying are just so much more.” Both have gone from living in suburbs or commuter towns to the very centre of major cities, where work and social lives are now a metro or bike ride away:“I just feel like I can be majorly independent here,” Fern said. 

“When I think about what will eventually draw me back, I’m in my thirties. I’m not my 24 year old self”

Will they ever come home?

Considering all of this, it seems reasonable to ask whether these emigrants, or prospective emigrants, ever expect to return. For Josh, being away “does feel quite permanent.”. Both he and Anna were quick to emphasise  how much they love Ireland and Irish people. But, as Anna pointed out, “your twenties are for having new experiences” and the familiarity of home will only get you so far. For Fern, this familiarity became stifling. She described the feeling of moving from a place in which she was “bombarded by sameness” to one which welcomes diversity in all its forms. Darragh has had a similar experience. She said  that although she appreciates Irish culture, “it’s exactly the same every time you come home. I know that if I come home in six months time, six years time, everything is going to be exactly as I left it. I don’t feel that I miss it in that way because it’s always going to be there.” It is perhaps unsurprising then that those who have already left are even less willing to commit to a return home. “I don’t think Ireland has what I’m looking for at the moment,” Darragh conceded, “when I think about what will eventually draw me back, I’m in my thirties. I’m not my 24-year-old self.”

And so, Irish youth continue to leave at increasing rates, and they may never come back. It is a familiar sight. But in the current moment it feels different. Unlike in the past, those interviewed are not leaving in the hope of finding a job; they’re leaving in the hope of finding a life; of finding a place where they can afford to live in their own spaces and avail of a functioning public transport system; a place where their work is valued above and beyond its ability to contribute to a ballooning GDP or a percentage point in an employment statistic; they leave to get away from the intense, all-consuming precarity of Dublin, of Belfast, or of the commuter belt. They have left, in Darragh’s words, to find a life “you just don’t get at 23 if you live in Ireland. Unless you’re very, very lucky.”

Sam Walsh

Sam Walsh is a Deputy Features editor for Trinity News. He is currently in his Senior Sophister Year studying Law and French.