Repatriation of Elderly
'The Irish Times'
August 2nd 1999
Remittances boost to economy is
There is a compelling ring of justice about suggestions
emanating from Mayo that the country should at last do
something concrete to help long-term emigrants in Britain
who yearn to return home for their final years.
The scale of the contribution made to the national
economy by emigrants remittances in the 1950's, 1960's, and
1970's has been highlighted by former Mayo Person of the
Year, Dr Séamus Caulfield. He has called for an
imaginative and generous gesture by the State in this, the
International Year of the Older Person.
Over two decades the emigrants sent back more than
£300 million in small remittances to their families,
money that not only kept the local economy ticking over in
coastal areas from Kerry to Donegal, but also helped to keep
the national debt in check.
With the national coffers now brimming over, Dr Caulfield
suggests that in next December's Budget, the Government
"should consider repaying a small part of this interest-free
debt we have had for almost half a century."
Over five years, he proposes, an 'Emigrants Remittances
Fund' of about £13 million a year should be shared out
between appropriate bodies in Ireland and Britain to help
the surviving emigrants, whose health and social problems
were described at a recent Mayo Assocaition convention in
He points out that the "Many Young Men of Twenty"
celebrated in John B. Keanes's powerful drama of emigration
are the "now somewhat diminished in numbers Many Old Men of
Sixty" of whom a certain number might, with limited
assistances, manage to realise their dream of ending their
days back home in Ireland.
Those emigrants of the 1950's and 1960's made an enormous
contribution, both to the land of their birth and to the
land they helped to rebuild after the second World War. Dr
Caulfield notes that the annual accounts of Government up to
1970 clearly record the scale of the "Emigrants Remittances"
sent home in single pounds, fivers and occasionally,
In 1961, for instance, the £13.5 million recorded as
Emigrants Remittances almost equalled the total cost of
primary and second level education in the Republic (£14
million). By 1970 the contribution from emigrants had risen
to more than £24 million.
Several other prominent Mayo figures have supported Dr
Caulfield's proposal and added further ideas. Mr Paddy
Moran, chairman of the Mayo Association in Dublin, suggested
that a group of the older emigrants could be flown back to
Knock airport on a fact-finding mission.
In Mulranny, Co Mayo, a practical project is already
established which has enabled some long-term emigrants from
the area to return.
The St Brendan's Village Project, a community housing and
care initiative for the elderly founded by local GP Dr Jerry
Cowley, has provided housing for several people who wished
to return from unsuitable or difficult situations in
The village includes a 'high-support' integrated unit
with capacity for 30 elderly residents, and 16 houses which
provide 'low-support' shelter for those older people who are
able to cater for themselves.
The project, involving about 25 staff directly as well as
a FAS scheme, has become the biggest employer in the area
and is based on the concept of reintegration of the elderly
in their own community, says Dr Cowley. "The idea is that no
matter how old you are there's a place for you in your local
He asserts that, nationally, the elderly are the
forgotten people, the people with no voice and whom the
system has failed. "When people can no longer cope by
themsleves in the community, they have to go to a faraway
place where they know nobody, and like the old Indian, they
just lose heart and die.
"This is the alternative to that. Not alone do we keep
people locally, but we've actually brought them back from
institutions as well. If you have services locally you stop
the vicious circle of depopulation and people will come and
settle, so this is also a formula for rural
St Brendan's village is home to
elderly returned emigrants
The St Brendan's project has attracted international
attention as a blueprint for care of the elderly in the
community. Three examples of elderly returned emigrants who
have been housed there demonstrate its impact.
Mary Caffrey (nee Keane) left Achill Island in 1934 aged
13 to go into domestic service in London. She was the second
eldest daughter of six children when circumstances compelled
her emigration. "There was nothing in Achill in those days,
" she says.
At the age of 15 she went to Scotland to work on potato
farms, and she got married there as the second World War was
starting. She spent 28 years in Scotland and had her two
Her husband died in 1970 and she went to Manchester,
where she had relatives. Her son and daughter eventually
married there, and she was housed by the council. "I've
lived on my own in a high-rise block since 1974," she adds,
"but Manchester was getting very, very bad and you were
always looking over your shoulder. I also lived with my fear
of getting ill - which makes you ill anyway." Mary is
delighted to have been accepted recently to occupy a small
house in the secure environment of St Brendan's village.
"Here you are respected and treated with dignity," she
Pat Gallagher, aged 75, and his widowed sister, Mary
Harris, aged 82, share another St Brendan's house. Pat left
Curraun, Achill, in 1940 at the age of 16 and travelled and
worked with various contractors in Britain. He also worked
at picking potatoes in Scotland and has been an emigrant for
He linked up with his sister, who had a council house in
Fife, when her husband died in 1981, but both of them were
anxious to return home, and they applied to St Brendan's
after a relative wrote to them about the new project.