Young and Talented Irish Leave for Better Life

Aoife O'Donnell, a 27-year-old photographer, who is leaving Ireland for the United States.
DUBLIN - Dublin at night makes an unusual studio for an unusual project, reports CBS News London correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

Photographer David Monahan is capturing the moment just before Ireland's young and talented become voluntary exiles fleeing the financial crash.

Over 2010 and 2011, 120,000 people are expected to leave.

"The idea is to make I suppose a heroic shot, to celebrate the person -- to say they are full of pride, full of dignity. They are going out to do something and they are going to do it well," said Monahan.

Sadly, they are going to have to do it in another country.

This economic collapse has brought crushing disappointment but also resignation. After all, history is repeating itself over the centuries. Every time Ireland hit the skids, the young people hit the road.

The potato famine caused the first wave of mass emigration in the 1840s.

This time, a disastrous banking failure and a giant real estate bubble that burst have left Ireland with an economy on life support and crippling unemployment lines.

Ireland the Celtic tiger is now Europe's basket case.

"It's really bad. The country is on its knees. People are sick of the governments, sick of the banks," said one woman.

Aoife O'Donnell is a 27-year-old photographer who's made the tough decision to leave her home and her family because even though she graduated from college with top honors, she can't find work.

"I tried applying for jobs, internships," said O'Donnell. "Even unpaid internships. I couldn't get anything. And it's like hitting a brick wall. For two months I went on social welfare and it got really demoralizing."

Now, O'Donnell hopes to build a new life in New York.

"There's a huge new wave of immigration going on in my country at the moment, it's palpable, I can just see from my own group of friends that I am probably one of the last people to actually emigrate," said O'Donnell.

A century ago, Ireland's best and brightest usually left on a one way ticket.

But in the global village of 2011 -- there is a way back if things improve.

"I love it, I really love Ireland," said O'Donnell. "I don't plan to be away for forever."

But right now it's time for Aoife O'Donnell's portrait.

Her bags packed and like so many thousands before her -- hopes pinned on a far horizon.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."