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‘Germs’ in the heart of the other: emigrant scripts, the Celtic Tiger and lived realities of return

Deirdre Conlon


During the 1990s and 2000s, the period coinciding with Ireland’s economic and social transformation and ubiquitously referred to as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, the Irish nation transitioned from being an emigrant-sending to an immigrant receiving society. In association with this shift, considerable attention has been devoted to Ireland’s new immigrant groups, including refugees and asylum seekers and more recently to migrant workers from new EU accession states. During the same period, inward migration was consistently comprised of significant numbers of former emigrants returning to Ireland; however, the place and experiences of Ireland’s return migrants has received comparatively little attention from mainstream media sources and is a relatively recent development in scholarship on migration. Taking as its impetus Piaras MacEinri’s (2001) call for scholarship that places Ireland’s history of emigration alongside contemporary immigration, this paper critically explores scripts - media representations and discourses - on emigrants and emigration in the late 1980s and 1990s as they reflect in the lived realities of Irish migrants who returned to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years. I argue that these scripts, which bestowed emigrants with characteristics that were subsequently gathered back into the social spaces of Irish society during the Celtic Tiger period, generated a social landscape that was complex to navigate and where lived realities - marked by a devaluation of the emigrant experience and displacement in return - illustrate the contradictions between the representations of emigration in the 1980s and experiences of return. Instead, the lived realities of return highlight the intricate linking of time and space in social exclusions from post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

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