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Far away in Australia

Ballinrobe group
From left: Michael O’Malley, Jerry Keane, Kevin Reilly, Seán Burke and James Reapy will leave Ballinrobe for Australia at the end of this month.?Pic: Michael Donnelly

Far away in Australia

Ballinrobe is feeling the full effects of emigration


Willie McHugh

IN Cornaroya Manor, hemming Ballinrobe town, six lads occupy a living room. Not much goes down here on Tuesday nights. Watching Liverpool and Man’ City going through the motions in the Carling Cup whiles away the time. They are instantly welcoming to a stranger in their midst. As nice-mannered a group you couldn’t happen upon.
Unwittingly they are also specimen metaphors for the elephant in the room that few want to acknowledge now. In a couple of weeks this sextet will depart town and hinterland for a land far away. Their story mirrors the best option facing Ireland’s young heartbeat.
Ballinrobe hasn’t sole copyright on this saga either. From Charlestown to Williamstown and all towns in between, it resonates the same. It’s the emigration drain teaming away the young. And only because they want a little more than what Ireland has to offer now.
The trip down under is no longer the great adventure it was before real life dovetailed in.
The year out to waltz with Matilda, see the sights around Brisbane, Christmas dinner on Bondi beach, then a few pictures around Ayres Rock before the turn for home carrying good anecdotes to share with friends in Ballinrobe’s ‘Latin  Quarter’ some Saturday night.
This expedition needs a little more planning than packing a rucksack and overnight bag. The dreams and aspirations are also in with the visa and passport. This flight is only booked one-way. Returning is not Plan B – at least not for now. As Seán Burke puts it, “I’d rather regret going than regret not going.”
Seán is from Ballinaya. A former Mayo minor he’s a handy enough forward who knows where the posts are. Qualified in Construction Management, he hadn’t contemplated emigration the day he graduated.
“I thought I’d get something around here, at worst have to go to Dublin or Limerick, but that wouldn’t be too bad. I’d be home the weekends to play a bit of football and do the usual stuff with the family.”
Instead he’s bound for Brisbane where he hopes to hook up with Christopher O’Malley and Noel Feerick who are already out there. 
Togher native Michael O’Malley spent Christmas Day explaining to his five year-old niece he was going away soon. “I’m not sure what she made of it but I wanted to tell her rather than her wondering again where I’d vanished to.”
A plumber by trade, Mike’s work has dried up. “You’re offered jobs in Dublin or somewhere and expected to pay your own digs and then work for poor money. Ask for anything and you’re told you’re lucky to have a job.”
Mike is also leaving a girlfriend of ten years behind. “She’s staying here for now anyway. She has a job but the hope is she’ll join me out there when I get sorted. At least that’s our plan now but we’ll see how I fare out first.”
James Reapy from An Cladrach talks about the things he’ll miss as he swaps Ballinrobe for Sydney. “It’s hard leaving the family, and especially the grandparents, because they’ll miss you more than they let on. The work around here is undependable and it’s one day to the next, not knowing what to expect, so now is as good a time as any to go.”
David Geraghty opened David Simon’s Barber Shop in Cornmarket three years ago.
“When I opened first I’d be here until half-nine on Friday night. Lads from Cong and Clonbur and surrounding areas in after work and plenty of ball-hopping as they waited for a cut. But a third of my clientele have emigrated to Australia. I can close at half-five on Friday evening now.”

ELECTION 2011. Renaissance Day. Beatrice Keane from Ballinrobe remembers it well.
“It was like a family reunion here in Friarsquarter because I got them all home to vote. I took [Enda] Kenny and [Michael] Ring at their word and believed all the promises they made in this kitchen about a new dawn. Idle promises as it turned out.
“All I wanted was that they could work in the country they were educated in. Fine Gael got ten votes from this house that evening. The irony is that all the family were in Ireland then. “Now Alma and her partner are in London. Shauna and her partner are in Toronto. Jerry is heading off to Australia with those lads. He sold the car today and that’s it for him now.
“And when Kevin finishes college in May he’s off too because there’s nothing here to keep him. Another daughter is in the process of applying for a visa.
“They all got honours in college and Ireland has nothing to offer but because they’re going the problem is ignored. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the attitude of this government to our youth. They boast that employment figures are dropping but we know why, too well I know anyway.”
Kevin Reilly studied Chemistry for four years in Limerick graduating with high marks.
“I’ve always had a wish to train as a pilot but for that I’d need to raise 60 grand and there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I’d ever earn enough around here to get access to that kind of money, or even a deposit for flying lessons.  Like all the other lads I’ll miss family too. My grandmother lives nearby and it won’t be easy saying goodbye.”
John F Burke is Manager of Lakeside Sport & Fitness Centre in Ballinrobe.
“Since January 2011 we’ve lost 127 regular members. All gone to Canada and Australia. During the good years the main hall was block-booked every hour with groups playing racquetball, handball and indoor soccer. But emigration is emptying the place fast and it’s getting more difficult to keep it financed.”
Mike Malone was a regular on his bike most nights after finishing “the graveyard shift” in Corrib Oil on the Neale Road. “The Will O’ The Wisp” in full flight to Lakelawns. Now he is heading down under too.
“I was five years in college in Galway paying top dollar for accommodation because it was during the boom times. I had money borrowed putting myself through college but I was determined to pay it off before I go by doing whatever work I could get. No way was I going leaving unpaid loans behind. We can’t burn the bondholders you know.”
Whether it was playing the bit of football up in ‘The Lough’, soccer in The Green, or rugby in The Racecourse, they were breathing much-needed fresh life into Ballinrobe and the satellite villages beyond.
“Fellas with a bit ‘a jizz in them” to paraphrase the poetic lines of Paul Durcan.  
The pulse of Ballinrobe weakens and Matilda still beckons a waltz. There are opportunities down under so the dancers are leaving.
Meanwhile, in Cornaroya Manor, the elephant sits alone in the room. He has Jerry Keane’s chair all to himself now.  Leave him be. That seems to be the plan.
Or the promise perhaps.
“Far away in Australia
Soon will fate be kind
And I will be ready to welcome at last
The girl I left behind.”