Emigration and Exile (Rooney, 1909)

1.739-40, 2.404. William Rooney, Prose Writings, (Dublin and Waterford: M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd., n.d.[1909] ), pp.212-15. BL YA.1991.a.13422

Extract from William Rooney, Prose Writings (1909), on emigration.

This extract from Rooney’s article ‘Emigration – How to Stay It’ considers the reasons behind the desire among the young in Ireland to leave in a way that serves as a context for Stephen’s act of self-exile.

We know the people fled from famine and pestilence, but much of that has been changed now, as much as can be hoped for while the British connection lasts. We rush away to-day, not from famine in all cases or from pestilence in any, but from idle days and monotonous evenings. We rush away from a land which has lost its storied charms drawn from the lives, deeds, and sacrifices of heroic men and women since the dawn of history. The ties of kindred and tradition keep the old people at home, but the young ones, lured by rosy-coloured pictures of places afar off, gleaned from odd sentences in emigrants’ letters, and inspired by the occasional arrival of remittances from the children abroad, grow disgusted with  the dull, unceasing, round of work, and the longing grows to be away in the whirl of the world where one’s life, if it be not exactly bright, would at least be full enough to prevent thought from darkening the future. We know how illusive are proved these ideas by a few months’ of exile, and how the memory wanders back to hill and valley in the old land, till, in the silent night, when the great cities of America have hushed their noises for a few brief hours, the lone exile in his lodgings feels his eyes grow dim at memory of the days when he went nutting in the wood and knew the hiding-place of every fish in all the rivers. No amount of success can conquer memory, and those emigrants of ours, who, like birds of passage, flit as often as they can to Ireland when the blossoms fill the trees and the fields are sweet with clover, know in their hearts that they would rather live their lives in Ireland than elsewhere. But why do not they? you will say. Why not resume their olden lives and quiet memory by the glens and hills that haunt them in their dreams. The prime reason is, of course, the country can give them no employment save the huxtering of a country town, but the lack of any amusement or entertainment for the vacant hours has its influence likewise. We should be sorry to see many of the things which are supposed to make life endurable in great cities imported into rural Ireland; but we must endeavour, if we would stop the emigration, to make the lives of our young people brighter than they have been since the Gaelic civilisation and entertainment, which bound our people to their native places, was submerged by the “culture” of the National school and the “literature” of the foreigner.