Narratives of exit
The public meanings of emigration and the shaping of emigrant selves in post- war Ireland, 1945– 1969
in Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England
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This chapter reconstructs the discourse of national crisis generated around mass departure in post-war Ireland and explores how it shaped the production of emigrant subjectivities. Based on a close reading of five oral narratives of leaving, contextualised through discursive analysis of local and national newspaper reportage, parliamentary debates and contemporary novels and travel literature, the chapter examines how subjects interact with a set of popular constructions of the emigrant as they attempt to narrate the particular circumstances and considerations that conditioned their own experiences of leaving for England. As well as showing how understandings of migrant agency were mediated through this ‘politics of exit’, the chapter underscores the emotional dynamics of family life as a key context shaping the personal meanings of departure, providing insight into the complex role played by leaving stories as sites of psychic conflict and integration within migrants’ overall migration narratives. Triggered by the act of recalling their decision to leave, these emotional processes point to the difficulties of leaving in the past, but also to the present self’s ongoing imaginative dialogue with the people and places left behind, and to how this conditions the reconstruction of past experience.

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