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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 29 March, 2020

Column: Watching my parents cope with long-term unemployment

Shaun Dunne, son of a carpet fitter, describes life in the shadow of a time when the working world was different.

Shaun Dunne

Shaun Dunne is the writer and performer of Death of the Tradesmen at ABSOLUT Fringe 2012.

MY NAME IS Shaun Dunne, I’m a 23-year-old theatre-maker from Dublin and as a fully paid-up member of the forgotten generation I’m constantly being questioned about my decision to stay in Ireland.

People seem to think I’ve maybe missed the latest wave of unemployment statistics or opportunity obstacles that come hand in hand with our little island’s fall from economical grace. I haven’t, obviously. I’ve heard and read all about it. I’ve had two sisters and a boatload of friends get up and out of our dirty-old-town for pastures greener, sunnier and altogether more fertile when it comes to finances.

What I find most interesting about these conversations, however are the voices leading them. I remember turning off the news before because there were maybe three pieces to camera involving older men and women who felt it of the utmost importance to tell me and my generation where to go. The fact that this older generation were so fixed on the idea that there was nothing left for my demographic here got me thinking: If they want me to leave, do they themselves want to leave too? Can they not? What’s that like?

I didn’t have to look too far for an answer. Both my parents told me very quickly that if they were twenty years younger they’d be out of here quicker than you can say “Perth”.

My Dad is a carpet fitter. He’s a tradesman. That’s all he’s ever done and when he got his apprenticeship at around 17 he thought he’d won the lottery. Born and raised on Sean McDermott Street he is of a generation of men that were told they would get nowhere in life without a trade. They were typically taken out of school after they were confirmed. They were then often given a paper round or a job selling on a stall in some market – anything at all that might help alleviate some of the financial pressures back home.

‘You can take a trade anywhere’

My Dad tells me that a trade back then was like a scholarship to your college of choice. The men who got lucky with an apprenticeship felt a guaranteed sense of security. After all, you can take a trade anywhere. I don’t need to go into too much detail about the Irish property collapse or lack of work going across the construction industry, but safe to say: when you’re 54 years old and money’s becoming way too tight to mention, there seems to be very few places left for you and your trade.

I think my house is an interesting place to live in at the moment. There are only three of us left including both parents. The sole provider can’t find work and the other two heirs to the throne are on the other side of the world. There’s a famous expression that often gets bandied around: “When poverty walks through the door, love flies up the chimney.”

Without getting all sentimental and Brady Bunch about it, I’m glad to say that that’s not the case with my own family. It’s been difficult the past few years – especially for my Dad – and it’s tough to see him and my Mam try to reconfigure things and make do at their age. (Not that mid-fifties is old but you know what I mean.)

I’m glad to say, however, that my father’s experience means I can’t feel too disillusioned here.

I don’t have children to provide for, I don’t have a mortgage that feels like a rope around my neck – and I still believe that there are plenty of reasons to stay here for a lot of people.

Shaun Dunne’s show Death of the Tradesmen runs from Saturday 8 to Saturday 15 September at Project Arts Centre as part of ABSOLUT Fringe 2012. For further details visit or call 1850 374 643.

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About the author:

Shaun Dunne

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