This paper explores the usefulness of a biographical approach in studying Irish rural youth migration. There have been calls recently for an approach to migration study that involves conceptualizing migration as part of individual biographies as well as social structures. However, there is little research that explicitly adopts a biographical approach. This paper presents the theoretical underpinnings, methodological issues and findings of a recent study that was guided by the principles of a biographical approach to migration. The study was an exploration of life-path formation among Irish rural youth from the 1970s to the 1990s. The paper focuses on the three key elements of a biographical approach to migration, and relates them to Irish rural youth migration. Firstly, migration is considered as part of an individual's biography, and the methodological implications of this are explored. Secondly, it is argued, drawing on the research in Ireland, that migration decision-making is a multilayered process. In the case of Irish rural youth migration, a biographical approach highlights the complexity of migration decision-making, revealing the tensions and struggles that lie behind each move, and thus raises questions over the tendency towards simplification of the migration process. Finally, it is argued that migration is a cultural phenomenon, but that this assertion needs careful qualification. This paper problematizes the role of culture in migration processes by untangling the systems of competing discourses of migration that underlie societal norms regarding migration, thereby challenging the view of migration as "normal" for particular societies or cultures.