Photography Friday n.5: Leaving Dublin

Sean And Leia O Dalaigh 2bb1small

Photography Friday n.5

David Monahan started in March 2010 a very interesting project about people ‘Leaving Dublin’. The purpose was to document the personal stories behind otherwise mere statistical figures.  He explains in this post the reasons behind the idea, and talks about some of the over 40 people he has encountered so far. These are his words:

There are all types of people leaving Dublin, for all sorts of reasons. In the last decade, the flux of people in Ireland was a one-way traffic influx into the country. I had convinced my self that the tap of emigration that had denuded our country of its people for so long, had been turned off forever. But it all changed rapidly. To one extent, people are now being displaced by economic reasons, but there are a lot of other forces at play that add to this pressure pushing people to look elsewhere in the world for a meaningful life.

Looking at my own familial situation, all of my siblings left Dublin in the eighties.

My eldest brothers company folded in the early 1980’s, and he had to seek work in the London financial insurance markets, as there were no similar opportunities here. My sister moved after an early marriage failure, and my youngest brother left after loosing his job as a cabinet maker. Skip back a generation and, on my mother’s family, all – except her – departed Dublin shortly after their house and community was destroyed in the Tolka floods of 1957. Three members of my father’s family of seven moved to the U.K. This left one family here in Dublin with an average age profile close to mine.

It shows, I suppose, that there are a lot of factors that motivate people to move away in search of a future, but the critical one seems to be the ability to provide a meaningful existence free from strife and with a financial stability.

Being aware of this and having first hand experience of the emotional consequences of emigration, I felt moved to start my ‘Leaving Dublin’ project in March 2010. The purpose of this project was to show those on the move as hero’s, adventurers, survivors. In a way the project celebrates those whom my city has no space for in this times where there is a contraction in economic activity. People who faced with a series of choices found that the unknown was the best option. Depending on their situation this decision could have been made out of a sense of duty, adventure or indeed desperation.

Amongst these people, we can find Seán Ó Dálaigh and his wife Leia. They are expecting their first child soon and have just moved to Rotterdam for steady work. When I met with them, Leia was in an advanced stage of pregnancy and found it tiring to make arrangements to move to Rotterdam. They where going there because Seán, a web designer who had been out of work for over a year, was offered a job controlling logistics for a building company.

Sadly for Seán it was a case of history repeating itself, as he had lived as a child in South Africa and later in Rotterdam; his own family had to move from Ireland during the last mass exodus. However Seán and Leia remained upbeat and opimistic, Leia thought that it was not so difficult for her to move – apart from the bad timing – as she is not from Ireland and she has not been here very long.

Seán commented that with a support structure already in Rotterdam from his previous time there, it should all be a relatively easy, a smooth transition. The shot was made near their home in Dun Laoghaire. It was a very straight shot with a strong composition in which Seán and Leia fought for space with a locked transport shelter.

Another couple Niall judge and Roisín O Connor have left for Singapore. With no real prospects in the financial services sector and shrinking wages and a deteriorating health service, they felt it was the only choice that made sense as they both worked in these sectors respectfully.

Like so many they are looking out into the world to find a place where their skill sets are needed and valued beyond the subsistence wage they can achieve here. That coupled with a better lifestyle should leave them both feeling a lot better about themselves and gives them a common stage on which to play out life in a more meaningful way.

Around December 2010, I photographed three friends who came to me through different sources but were all travelling together to New York on student internship visas. Theirs is a story we will be hearing again and although they and hundreds of others will pick up invaluable experience working abroad in all sorts of cultural spaces, it is a shame that the very same experience could not be afforded to them here. I feel they are somehow enjoying the inconvenience of having to ship out to a world cultural centre to get a further taste of life!

The group of three, Aoife o Donnell, Neasa O’Shea Brady and Fiona O’Keefe are all in New York and from what I have seen so far they are certainly all on an upward trajectory.

All three shots were made in sub zero temperatures and one was recorded for a TV piece that went out coast to coast on CBS TV news.

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The work is in constant development; if you know anyone emigrating, let them know about the project. You can see all the details in his web sites and

A selection of ‘Leaving Dublin’ features on the news
CBS News, USA, Jan. 22, 2011: Young and Talented Irish Leave for Better Life
Nieuwsuur, Netherlands, Feb. 15, 2011: Irish youth departs en masse
Irish Central, online and printed, March 10, 2011: Portraits of the Irish Leaving Home
Irish Examiner, May 19, 2011: Photographer brings emigrants into focus

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