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Ireland and Italy saw significant proportions of their populations emigrate after 1945 before recently becoming host to substantial immigrant populations. Despite the post-war exodus of millions of Irish and Italians, the literature has consistently failed to quantify the effect this
had on Irish and Italian society and on those who left. Not enough attention has been devoted to examining how Ireland and Italy have adapted to their transitions from near homogenous to heterogeneous societies in such a short period either. Immigrants today amount to over half a million in Ireland (12% of the Irish population) and 4.6 million in Italy (8% of the Italian population). These countries’ transitions demands scholarly attention. With the departure of young people from Ireland and Italy once again because of reduced opportunities at home, and with newcomers from elsewhere still arriving in search of a better life, this comparative project provides a timely indicator of how emigration and immigration have shaped the two societies since 1945.

The main objective of the IIMIGRATI project was to demonstrate how emigration and immigration have shaped Ireland and Italy since 1945. To fulfill this aim, the study considered, in detail, (1) why so many people left Ireland and Italy after 1945. It assessed (2) the ramifications of the exodus of millions of Irish and Italians for the societies they left behind. It explored (3) the effects that migration had on those departing their homes. In an attempt to fill a notable gap in the literature, this project examined (4) how return migration and internal migration affected Irish and Italian society in the 1960s and 1970s. Relating to more contemporaneous developments, this study investigated (5) how Ireland and Italy have adapted to recently becoming hosts to sizeable numbers of immigrants.

Ireland and Italy’s migration experiences have been studied predominantly in the singular rather than the plural. Yet unravelling common and divergent processes that occurred can often be more enlightening than solely describing specific events in one country. This project consequently utilised the tools of comparative history to highlight national differences between the two countries and identify clear international migration trends. It also adopted a transnational perspective at times to trace the connections that often endured between communities despite significant movement across borders.

Archival work was carried out at the National Library of Ireland, the Irish National Archives, Trinity College Dublin’s Manuscripts and Archives Research Library, University College Cork’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ and EMIGRE oral archive collections, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma, the Biblioteca di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea and the documentary centre of the Centro Studi Emigrazione. Statistical research was undertaken of historic Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) and Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (ISTAT) material and more recent databases, such as the EMIGRE dataset in University College Cork and the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing results (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin.

Working with both quantitative and qualitative primary and secondary sources gathered from the archives, libraries and collections listed above enabled me to answer a number of critical questions on Irish and Italian migration in the last seventy years presented above. Both Irish and Italian society underwent considerable change after 1945. Technological developments led to reduced employment opportunities in agriculture in both countries. The need for labour to help rebuild many West European countries devastated by the Second World War meant that better paid alternatives presented themselves abroad. The beginning of the Italian ‘economic miracle’ in the early 1950s allowed many to migrate internally rather than move across international borders. Due to the widespread economic malaise that affected Ireland throughout that same decade, young Irish people did not have the same options, which partly explains why more Irish emigrated during this period per capita than Italians. Another significant factor was that Irish women left in equal and sometimes greater numbers than their male counterparts, which allowed Irish emigrants to intermarry and build their lives abroad while remaining part of the Irish community. Italian emigration remained predominantly male, which led many to return to find a partner or to rejoin their families.

One advantage of carrying out comparative research is that it draws attention to patterns often neglected in single case studies. Return migration and internal migration featured prominently in the Italian story during the 1950s and 1960s. Historians studying Ireland have tended to overlook these kind of movements. Yet this project has demonstrated that the scale of return migration to Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s was much higher than previously acknowledged by historians. Similarly, massive internal migration occurred during the same time period, leading to enormous societal change in the process – a development largely neglected by scholars thus far. One question this project has constantly tried to answer is whether Ireland and/or Italy are outliers or whether their migration experiences correlate closely with those of other West European countries with extensive postwar emigration and later immigration, such as Portugal, Spain and Greece. Ireland did appear an exception in the 1980s when it once again saw large swathes of its young population leave that decade due mostly to domestic economic problems. This resulted in the re-greening of certain cities abroad, most notably London.

Social scientists have in recent years devoted a great deal of attention to investigating how Ireland and Italy have adapted to their transitions from near homogenous to heterogeneous societies since the 1980s and 1990s. Somewhat uniquely, this study examined Ireland and Italy’s contemporary history of immigration through the lenses of their emigrant pasts. It used memory as a tool to tie Ireland and Italy’s emigrant experiences together with their immigrant experiences and also investigated how migration history can inform contemporary incorporation policies. This project argues that Ireland was better placed to draw on its extensive history of emigration to help incorporate its increasingly large immigrant community than Italy because of the public way society and the state have remembered outward movement and because it has had more of an impact on Irish society since the nineteenth century. Highlighting the common experience of migration that so many Irish born people and immigrants to Ireland have encountered may help to improve social cohesion if used in combination with other incorporation measures. By comparing immigrants in Ireland with Irish emigrants, people can place themselves in the shoes of recent newcomers, thereby bridging the cultural gap between the two groups and forming a potential common bond between them. This can also serve as an important integration tool for Italy also. Yet, Italy has to remember its emigrant past properly to enable it to see the parallels between those arriving more recently and those who left in previous decades and centuries.

In recent years and following the Great Recession in 2008, emigration from Ireland and Italy has increased significantly. Yet skilled Irish emigrants moved in much greater numbers per capita because they possessed more valuable transnational human capital - that is the knowledge and skills to manage abroad - than their Italian counterparts. Irish emigrants had already built up wide-ranging knowledge of English-speaking destinations in Europe (the UK) and further afield (Australia, Canada, New Zealand) through earlier experiences abroad and through the presence of Irish networks established in the 1990s and 2000s through lifestyle migration. They were able to gain an almost equal footing as host citizens in these states' labour markets because they shared the same first language and receiver states recognised their qualifications. Although Italian citizens had full access to the labour markets of fellow EU states, much fewer Italians emigrated per capita because of linguistic difficulties, the absence of sizeable young Italian networks and different education structures, which meant that their skills were not always transferable. This does not clarify why unskilled citizens from both countries did not move to EU countries in any great number despite high domestic unemployment rates, especially as language barriers may not be as important for low-skilled employees. The most likely reason is that they face stiff competition from citizens from newer EU member states and because the convergence of wages and improvement in living standards in recent decades in Ireland and Italy make the risk of emigrating not worthwhile for low-skilled Irish and Italian citizens.

Due to the outbreak of the so-called 'refugee crisis' in recent years, IIMIGRATI also focused much of its attention in 2015 on Italy's response to boat people and asylum seekers. Due to previous knowledge of Australia's reception of boat people and asylum seekers, a comparison between the two countries was made. The project investigated why two countries facing a similar predicament often acted so differently. The main explanations put forward to explain such differences were 1) the countries’ varying path dependencies relating to migration management, 2) the diverging political values of leftist parties in Australia and Italy, and 3) the contrasting external constraints facing EU countries compared to non-EU countries. Geography, diplomacy and regional power also feature in explaining such variances, as do the importance of ‘norm entrepreneurs’ referencing ‘immaterial values’, such as the Vatican in Italy and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Despite this project's efforts to determine why Australia and Italy’s approach to boat people diverged so much, convergence may be on the horizon if Italy and the EU successfully externalise their immigration regimes in the future.

Migration is a subject that transcends various national and epistemic boundaries. This study was therefore much more than a historical study of migration: its methodology was interdisciplinary and as a result its findings can influence the work of various approaches, as well as European society more generally.

The IIMIGRATI project was carried out by Dr. Irial Glynn with the support of an EU FP7 Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (2014-15), and was hosted by the Institute for History at Leiden University in the Netherlands.