Expats in Ireland


fish clare

After six-and-a-half years, dozens of new friends, two jobs, hundreds of kilometers of exploration around this island and one Irish husband, I am moving back to America.

In a few weeks, said husband (you used to know him as Mountaineering Man in the early days but his real name is Cormac) and I will be saying farewell to Ireland. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for all that this little green island has done for me – I feel like a different person to who I was when I landed back in March 2010.

cor2And for that reason, the move will be bittersweet. It’s hard to believe how much has happened since my first blog post from Ireland, where I wrote about discovering a proper fry-up, the Irish obsession with tea and their penchant for tardiness. I remember writing about my first car (Peugot 206) and learning to drive on the opposite side of the road AND car; trying desperately to understand the Irish accent; my first real bout of insecurity about the move; introducing you, the readers, to Mountaineering Man; and marrying him. And a million things in between and since – there’s just too much to share in one post.

So for the next few weeks, I’m dedicating my blog to a special series of farewell posts that will highlight some of the best moments, people, places and things about my time in this beautiful country. I hope you’ll join me for this final farewell!

San Francisco, 1999.

I was in a major pickle.

I’d spent the night at a friend’s flat after too much wine. She had to go to work early, but told me I could sleep in and let myself out as the front door would lock behind me. That’s what good friends do.

I woke up a couple of hours after she’d gone, made sure I had my handbag and jacket and walked out of the flat. I heard the tell-tale “click” of the lock as I firmly pulled the door closed behind me. I walked about 10 steps and turned the handle of the front gate. It was locked, and the only way to open it was with a key – which was nowhere to be found.

Surely the key must be around here somewhere, I reasoned. I checked under the two potted plants, a discarded paper bag and some decorative rocks that lined the walkway. Nothing. I peered into the window of the neighbouring flat, but it was uninhabited; there was nothing but trash on the floor and it looked as if no one had lived there for months. To make things worse, my mobile phone battery was dead, since I hadn’t planned to spend the night and therefore didn’t have my charger with me.

GATE

I know what you’re thinking. A gate? Why not simply climb over it? Like many flats in San Francisco, this one had a gate about 15 feet high with spikes on top [similar to the one in this pic on the right]. It was made of wrought iron and had vertical bars, just like a jail cell door (cue irony). With no vertical bars to put my feet on, scaling it meant I’d have to pull my full body weight up by my arms. My upper body strength – or lack thereof – simply couldn’t cut it. The saddest (or most hilarious, depending on the POV) part was that people walking by could see me trying to wriggle my way up this thing. One guy even stopped and tried to help, but upon realising the severity of heroism required, shrugged his shoulders with a muffled “sorry” before strolling off.

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In a few short days, I’ll be meeting my best friend from back home in New York City for a long weekend. It’s been over six years since we’ve had time by ourselves face-to-face, mainly due to this hectic day-to-day thing called life and the literal ocean that sits between us.

As an expat, you learn to live without your family and friends as that’s just part of the deal. When I was preparing to move from Los Angeles to Ireland five years ago, all of my friends promised they’d visit. “Finally we have a reason to go to Ireland!” they’d say, earnestly. Five years later, only one (the aforementioned best friend) has actually followed through.

I’m not bitter about the lack of visitors. Let’s face it: it’s a huge ask, especially for my friends back home who get about 10 paid vacation days a year. Throw in kids, the expense of overseas travel and the not-so-amazing weather around here and you can’t blame them for spending their precious holidays in other locales. If the tables were turned, I’d probably do the same.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since I landed in Ireland. On the one hand, it seems like yesterday that I put an entire apartment worth of furniture into storage in Los Angeles and set out on what was supposed to be a one-year adventure here.

On the other hand, so much has happened since arriving – far more than the average for four years, if there was such a tracker (“How Many Major Life Moments Tracker” or something of the sort). I met and married Mountaineering Man;  lived in three apartments; had two regular radio features; am currently at my second job; visited Paris, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Seville, Brittany, Regensburg, London, Madrid, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Japan, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Mayo and a number of other towns and villages in Ireland since settling here. I’ve been to three wakes, two funerals, two weddings and one baptism. I’ve made dozens of new friends, both Irish and expats, and have chatted with at least 100 taxi drivers.

When you live in Ireland, you gotta (or “hafta” as the Irish would say) talk to the taxi drivers – they know everything.

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Table peeps

As my fellow expat and friend Lily said during our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday evening, our friends are family to us as we don’t have our blood relatives nearby. Whether they know it or not, our mates play a very important role in our lives here – far away from our moms, dads, sisters and brothers back home.

This was the spirit behind what my friends Bill and Sharon dubbed Thanksgivingpolooza, a three-day weekend away in the midlands of Ireland to celebrate a very American holiday. The idea sprung about a couple of months ago, when Mountaineering Man considered who we could invite for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Every year we have to choose just a handful of friends, as our space in Dublin simply doesn’t allow for any more. A hunt for a bigger space was launched.

House

After some Google searches and Twitter queries I came across Bishopstown House, a beautifully-restored Georgian estate with multiple bedrooms, two sitting rooms, a roof deck and a massive kitchen. There’s also a private pub and more bedrooms next door in a converted stable house. There is some interesting history behind the building; Michael Jackson chose it to be his Irish estate but he passed away before the refurb was completed. It is now rented out as a holiday home. Sad for the King of Pop, but lucky for us! After a few group emails, I booked it and on Friday we all met up at the property with food, drink and supplies and hunkered down for the weekend. Thanksgivingpolooza 2013 was on!

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For the first year I lived in Ireland, I mainly worked from home. While I loved the freedom (making my own schedule, staying in my PJs, etc.) it wasn’t the best way to socialise myself in a new country.

Though I had a small group of friends in Drogheda (where I lived back when I first came here), I was starting to feel pretty lonely working at my dining room table most days with little to no interaction with other human beings. It was so depressing that at one point, I was putting on makeup and getting excited about a trip to Tesco for milk and eggs. At least I could talk to someone, even if the interaction was limited to a 3-minute chat with the check-out lady.

After relocating to Dublin and moving in with Mountaineering Man, I took a job at a digital creative agency in town. As with most agencies, the hours were long which meant that I spent more time with my 50-odd colleagues than I did with MM or anyone else in my personal life.

team

The people who really became my family there was my workgroup – the Social Media team. There were four of us for most of my time there and I was the only female in the bunch. We were a scrappy lot, and I mean that in the best way. Philip – a long-haired thrash metal rocker with a sharp wit and a thick Northern accent – welcomed me into the fold with a typed-up list of recommendations and advice. “Don’t ever, EVER eat at the Bridge Café,” he wrote, referring to the greasy spoon deli and one of the only choices for food near the office.

To this day, I’ve never eaten there – despite the fact that Philip has gone against his own advice and eats there almost DAILY now (“I was wrong about it!” he claims, though I attribute his change of heart to sheer desperation thanks to a lack of decent eateries in the Ringsend area). Philip is the master of the hilarious yet thought-provoking quip (“Some day soon, somebody is going to print a 3D printer on a 3D printer and the universe is going to implode”) – and so-bad-they’re-good jokes.

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Honeymoon 20

Even on the sunniest of days, when the sky and the ocean simultaneously reflect the most radiant shades of blue and the birds chirp away in the full, lush trees and everyone’s showing off their stems in rarely-worn shorts and exposing their bashful big toes in sandals; even on those rare, beautiful Spring days in Dublin, there’s something missing.

It was one of those days yesterday, and while Mountaineering Man toiled away at the office I decided to head out into town and get some much-needed Vitamin D, plus a few other things I’ve been meaning to purchase. My first stop was Fallon & Byrne, a place that has become almost a sacred place for me. Some people have churches; I have gourmet food shops and farmers’ markets. Even if I only need one item, I amble down every aisle and rest my eyes for at least a few seconds on every single item on every single shelf. From smoked salted almonds and squid ink lasagna sheets to sweet-smelling star fruit and whole wild rabbits, the selection is comprised of the most wonderful, mysterious things that never fail to inspire.

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For the first year after I moved to Ireland, I lived alone in a lovely upper-floor apartment in Drogheda. And for several years prior to my move to Ireland, I lived alone without any live-in beaus or roommates to speak of.

I don’t look back on this with any sadness or regret; in fact, when I finally decided to ditch the roommate situation and branch out on my own, I was beyond ready to go solo. My last roommate (in Los Angeles, where I lived at the time) was an actress who didn’t have a day-job, which meant she was in our apartment all the time. It got to the point where I’d pull into our driveway after a long day at work and groan when I saw her car there – just once I wanted it and her NOT to be there, laying about on the couch and nagging me about everything from whether I’d read her magazines without asking to when I’d planned to move the unwashed fork from the sink into the dishwasher.

Though for the first few weeks I was a bit chicken (one unfamiliar noise in the dark would almost make pine for the company of that lay-about actress) I settled into bachelorette living and embraced having my own space. It was nice to come home from work, fix myself dinner and not have to worry about whether someone else had already tuned the television to some stupid show I had no desire to watch. I could literally kick off my shoes, flip on the telly and eat cereal out of the box if I so pleased.

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When I first moved to Ireland just over three years ago, I was a wide-eyed American girl with sense of adventure and an open mind…or so I thought. After the initial excitement of living in a new country wore off, I started to realise that living in Ireland meant I would be getting a lot of practice working on something I wasn’t so good at: Patience.

I recall the first time I strolled down to the post office during lunch, just to find out many post offices are closed during the 1-2 PM lunch break. Seriously? How does this make any sense? Most people use their weekday lunch time to run errands, like go to the bank, drop off the dry cleaning and GO TO THE POST OFFICE. GROAN!

Particularly when I lived in Drogheda, a trip to the grocery store could take twice as long as planned thanks to the chatterboxes that work the cash registers. Oh Mary, you’re looking well! What are ye up to? Aw that’s a lovely restaurant, we love it. Make sure to get the steak and….oh sure treat yourself, you deserve it! This could go on for minutes…tens of minutes. Never mind there’s a half-dozen of us in line behind Mary, waiting to get back to work or back to the car that’s sitting in the pay-by-the-hour car park.

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Irish Curried Potatoes

As I sit here typing this blog post, I’m looking outside at the wind and rain and bracing myself for the sleet that is forecasted for this evening. If Irish people are buying that this is Spring, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The only thing that’s Spring-y about this weather is, well, nothing.

Still, it could be worse. And despite Mountaineering Man’s grumblings about the cruel and unrelenting Irish weather (and financial crisis and corrupt politicians), I still love it here. It’s funny how many times a day I get the OMG WHY DID YOU MOVE HERE FROM LOS ANGELES double-take from stunned Irish people. It’s typically followed by a statement about how bad things are here and how they can’t imagine why anyone would actually want to move to Ireland.

The sentiment I get from blog readers abroad is the complete opposite. I get a dozen emails every week from people all over the world who are dying to live here. They dream of the rolling green hills, the cosy pubs and great Irish craic and they ask me a lot of questions about how they can make that dream a reality. Their love and admiration for the country is palpable; they speak of Ireland with the kind of dreamy enthusiasm that many express about places like Paris, Tuscany and Manhattan.

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