Living Abroad in Ireland
True Expatriate Stories
© Steenie Harvey, from Living Abroad in Ireland, 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.
A new life in Ireland. Sounds like a wonderful idea, but is it really possible? Well, I'd just like to tell you that dreams can come true. I should know, mine did.
I haven't always been a writer, you know. And Ireland is my adopted home, rather than my place of birth. Back in the late 1980s, my life was in a rut. I lived in a dreary industrial English town and had an equally dreary job as an office clerk in a printing factory.
Although family life was great— wonderful husband, wonderful daughter—I felt crushed by the sheer grind of my day-to-day existence. I got up, went to work, caught a bus home, cooked dinner, and watched television. Day after day after day. But what's wrong with that? After all, thousands of people were in the same boat as me.
Then a bombshell dropped—my husband, Michael, lost his job. Maybe it was the shock of discovering our income had been cut in half, but we had this crazy idea. Why not move away, try a completely different lifestyle?
We knew Ireland, having spent several vacations there—and Michael has Irish blood passed down from his grandfathers. We had always enjoyed fantastic holidays in Ireland, and it seemed such a gentle place, so why not give it a try? I had always yearned to live in the countryside, and Ireland certainly had plenty of that.
To be frank, it was all very impulsive. And maybe if I had thought longer about it, I'd still be serving a life sentence in that wretched old printing works. At that time, 17 years ago, Ireland's unemployment figures were ghastly, and we had no jobs lined up. My parents thought we were completely crazy. But we went anyway.
We rented a furnished house in County Sligo for the first few months while we were hunting around for a cottage to buy. Our daughter, Maggie, was dispatched to the local convent school—and if you have teenage girls yourself, you can probably imagine her reaction to a mud-brown uniform with mud-brown socks to match.
It's hard to believe now, but we went to Ireland with the idea of buying a home for less than $15,000. It took some months of searching, but we did eventually hit gold. We found a cozy cottage overlooking Lough Key in County Roscommon. This was just how I'd pictured country living: a huge garden where we could grow all our own vegetables, room enough to have a dog and three cats, a shop, and a couple of excellent pubs—all within a mile's walk. Plus we were surrounded by lovely neighbors—and, by the way, I can assure you that all those things you may have heard about Irish warmth and hospitality are true. (You'd better start developing a taste for strong tea and idle chit-chat now.)
Apart from the fact that we had to learn how to light fires and sweep chimneys (I was sure nobody had done this in England since Victorian times), the only fly in the ointment was our job situation. Michael had found work, but nobody seemed to want me. What could I do besides hiring myself out as a chimney sweep? My new enthusiasm for gardening seemed unlikely to pay dividends either. For some reason there didn't seem to be a market for tons of organically grown radishes, not in this corner of County Roscommon. Take it from one who knows: Do not sow four packets of radish seeds all at once.
Fortunately, I'd read one of those daft “You too can have a career as a writer” advertisements, and as luck would have it, the previous owner of our house had left behind an antique manual typewriter in the shed. Plus a collection of rubber Wellington boots with whiskey bottles buried inside them. I got really excited—until I discovered the bottles were all empty—but I did make use of the typewriter.
I decided to bash out a humorous article about our own search for the perfect Irish country cottage. I rambled on about real-estate agents taking us to see hovels with tin roofs and no bathroom facilities—mere shacks with no front doors. In fact, we even saw one where cows were using the kitchen as a barnyard. This was the first thing I'd ever written, and believe it or not, the property editor of a daily newspaper published it. She was kind enough to ask me for a follow-up, a factual piece outlining the kind of homes that were on sale in this forgotten corner of western Ireland.
Seventeen years on, we're still living in the same little cottage. Our daughter has married an Irishman, and we've acquired a bunch of grandkids—six in total. (“What are you trying to do?” I ask her. “Repopulate the west of Ireland all by yourself?”) And my writing career has soared. . . .
Not only have I had books published, I also spend a fair bit of time traveling around Europe on behalf of an American magazine, writing about real estate. Would this have happened if I hadn't moved to Ireland? Don't think so. Chances are I'd still be on the other end of a telephone, explaining to irate customers why their printing orders weren't ready.
But here's the thing: I've never been tempted to move on again. Flying back from Portugal a week ago, the same tremendous thrill swept through me that I felt the first time I ever visited Ireland. My heart always lifts as the plane swoops over Dublin Bay, and once again I see my adopted homeland emerging from the mist.
I think what I'm trying to say is this: I love this country, and I can't imagine any reason why I'd want to say goodbye. After you've read this book, I very much hope that you too will come and experience the magic. It may be just for a visit, but then again, Ireland and its enchantments may keep you here forever. You have been warned!
For Steenie Harvey and her family, moving to Ireland was all very impulsive. Steenie and her husband Michael were unemployed, and in the late 1980's, when they moved, Ireland's unemployment figures were ghastly. But they went anyway—they had spent wonderful vacations in Ireland and had always yearned to live there.
The family rented a home in Sligo county while hunting around for a place to buy. Their daughter, Maggie, was dispatched to a local convent school—and reacted to the mud-brown uniform with mud-brown socks in appropriate teenage fashion.
Eventually they found a cottage in Roscommon county. Big enough for the family, the dog, and three cats, it also had a huge garden where they could grow their own vegetables. Plus, there were a couple of excellent pubs within a mile's walk. Apart from learning how to light fires and sweep chimneys (nobody had done this in England since Victorian times), the only problem was the job situation. Steenie wasn't entranced by the idea of becoming a freelance chimney sweep.
”What about writing?” she thought. So she bashed out a humorous article about searching for the perfect Irish country cottage—and what she'd viewed along the way (fixer-uppers with tin roofs and no front doors, homes where cows used the kitchen as a barnyard). This was the first thing she'd written since leaving school, and a newspaper published it.
Seventeen years later they're still in Ireland. Steenie now has a full-time career writing about travel and real estate. While she's seen a lot of places in the past few years, nowhere has quite the same magic as Ireland. She couldn't imagine living anywhere else.