Will recession drive Irish back to Dot?

Getting ready: Molly Dalton, Dermot Quinn and Roseleen Weir prepare Greenhills Bakery for St. Patrick's Day and discuss the potential influx of new immigrants.Getting ready: Molly Dalton, Dermot Quinn and Roseleen Weir prepare Greenhills Bakery for St. Patrick's Day and discuss the potential influx of new immigrants.The "Celtic Tiger" era of Ireland is long gone. On the isle, hundreds of thousands are protesting in the streets, there's a 10.4 percent unemployment rate and a near universal government disapproval. But the economic reversal has yet to result in a significant increase of Irish immigration to Dorchester.

Lack of employment opportunity in the States and the difficulty of obtaining visas may be making the move less appealing, according to some, though others speculate it may only be a matter of time before Dot's Irish pubs are packed once again.

At the Twelve Ben's pub on Adams Street, John Connely, a carpenter, said he often hears from contacts back home about the recent trend of immigration to Australia.

"No talk about the States," he said. "But I'd say it's going to start soon."

The economic crisis here in Boston doesn't seem to be driving Irish immigrants away, either.

"My parents are always asking me to come home," said one anonymous bartender, originally from County Meath. "But right now I'm not going. Anyone who leaves here can't find work. At this time last year, though, I would have been inclined to go back. And a lot of people will tell you that."

On top of thousands of layoffs in a nation of only 4.4 million, the Irish government is raising taxes, pension charges and cutting public employee salaries to cover budget shortfalls created by the burst of the real estate bubble. It's also spending billions to prop up banks, which has spawned massive protests, threats of strikes and a 10 percent government approval rating.

Dermot Quinn of Greenhills Bakery agrees the economic climate in Ireland is worse, though he isn't seeing any more Irish than normal around his shop.

"But we've been feeling (the crisis) for the past year to 18 months," he said. "It's only been six to eight months over there."

Some expect to see an immigration bump, especially if the economy across the pond continues to deteriorate. The Dublin-based Economic and Social Research Institute has predicted 50,000 Irish will seek new homes this year.

"Everyone got used to the gravy train," said Quinn about the boom. "There was no end to what they could afford. But the train has left. The Celtic Tiger has left."

The Irish Consulate General confirms the word on the street. Vice Consul Deirdre Ni Fhalluin said she's heard anecdotally of new arrivals, but no huge numbers yet.

"We don't monitor people, but from what we can gather, there hasn't been a significant increase," she said.

Ni Fhalluin said it was possible numbers could pick up in the summer, though it was still too early to tell.

Others are already starting to sense rumbles of an upcoming influx.

Kiernan O'Sullivan of the Irish Pastoral Center in Quincy said there's been a sharp spike, by at least 50 percent, in the number of inquiries he's seen over the past six months from people in Ireland looking to move to Boston.

General contractor Michael O'Dwyer of O'Dwyers Builders said he wouldn't be surprised to see thousands of new immigrants in the next year or so. He's heard several people talking about returning already.

"It's severely depressing," said O'Dwyer about the Emerald Isle. "Opportunity has dropped 60 to 70 percent. At least there was tourism and agriculture before. But now even that is down. I think it's going to be the biggest round of immigration in more than 20 years."

"They're just packing up and going," said a painter, originally from Cork, who asked for anonymity. "My brother's a builder there and he tells me that lots will be back. There's just no work."

Many of the potential immigrants are carpenters, electricians and other workers who returned to Ireland during its boom. Now with construction frozen, they're stuck.

Thomas Keown at the Irish Immigration Center is hearing the same. He expects numbers to jump once winter is over and construction season ramps up. He remains conservative, however.

"There are some new faces of late in Boston because of the economic slowdown (in Ireland)," he said. "It's not a flood, but an increasing trickle. And we expect the numbers to increase, but not dramatically."

Even if it is 10 times worse in Ireland, emigration to the U.S. may not be the best option, according to O'Sullivan of the Irish Pastoral Center. He recently handled a case of an immigrant who, unable to find a job, ended up in a homeless shelter.

"But he still felt he had a better chance here," said O'Sullivan. "The biggest challenge is finding work. But there's always a sense that America is the place to turn to when there are troubles."

Unfortunately, jobs at many of traditional places immigrants find work have dried up.

"Some of them are saying they are lucky if they have two or three days of work a week," said O'Sullivan. "Construction, hospitality, bars and restaurants, even nanny and childcare jobs are dwindling.

O'Dwyer, the contractor, said though he's been "blessed" with enough business for himself, he's not sure how much hiring he could do. He's nervous about the annual arrival of footballers and hurlers seeking summer work during their off-seasons.

"We all try to help each other out," he said. "So if I don't, hopefully someone else can."