An Irish Christmas

It’s dark and quiet as I sit and listen to the clock tick this early morning while I drink my tea. I’m back in the corner of the couch in the kitchen I’ve sat in a thousand times before, contemplating Christmas, family, and jet lag.

We’re home in Ireland for Christmas!!

Tea and a bun, Heaven!

This is the first time Frank and the kids and I have returned to Ireland since we left, over 3 years ago and I am so happy to be back! We flew in on Friday morning and, while I’m sorry to say my body clock is still adjusting, we’ve been having a great time. The weather has been cold and dry, just the way I like it, and every day we’ve been walking in the sunshine, meeting friends and family and feeling a little like we never left! Sure, there have been changes – new shops have replaced old, friends have had children, neighbors have passed away – but the countryside, the streets, and the feel of the place is very much as it always was.

I put Shea in a stroller on Saturday morning and pushed him up the road and right into town. Walking along, I nearly cried. (I’m a very nostalgic person, if you couldn’t tell before!) I pointed out familiar landmarks as we walked and he shouted and pointed at things that excited him.  I could smell coal fires and vinegary chips and drifting cigarette smoke and wet grass and my heart was full of love for this place that brought us all together, even when things so were hard sometimes.

Christmas Cakes at the Moorland Cafe

Frank, on the other hand, said he’s not feeling that nostalgic at all. He’s very happy to be home, to have the kids back with the grandparents and cousins, to see friends on the town and to be filling up on good milk and bread and tea and cakes and fry-ups… but he said he’s not overcome with a desire to move back right away. I guess, for him, he still sees how many things have stayed the same or not changed enough – things in the town, the arts, the society. I think he still feels very strongly how difficult it is to make a positive difference at times here, and how that frustration and sadness of being unable to make things better was such a visceral part of why we moved away. But he told me not to delete the app from my phone just yet. 😉

It’s funny, after the recent election in America, I got more hits on this site than I had in a long time, and I even had American people writing me for advice for how to move to Ireland. This is always a difficult question for me, because I want to answer honestly, without the influence of rose-tinted glasses (despite my emotionally charged diatribe above!). Firstly, I always feel ill-equipped to advise people on the legalities of moving here and working, because they are complicated and unclear. I was engaged when I moved, so I knew I would be granted a work visa once the papers were signed.  I did try to gain professional employment before that time, but could not find anyone to sponsor me (understandably, since it cost in excess of €1000 for an employer to do so, at least back in 2008). Some Americans, like Claire, were able to move to Ireland with savings and work freelance for a while before finding full-time Irish employment, so she would be a better source for information there. But even she has now moved back to the USA with her Irish husband to pursue other opportunities.

Would I encourage people to move to Ireland, as I did, knowing what I know? Hm.  I think I will always encourage people to take risks, to travel, and to try living outside the comforts and securities of home, wherever that may take them. I think people in the USA should absolutely live abroad for a year or more, to understand the world outside our American bubble. I would love to tell people to move to Ireland, absolutely – but I also don’t want them to hate the country because they didn’t know what they were in for.

If you want to move to Ireland, firstly, you have to be really completely wholeheartedly sure. You have to be OK with the weather, and OK with the cost, and OK with maybe not fitting in for a while. You need to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind being alone, but can also take steps to meet people. I’ve said before that the Irish can be very friendly, but also very insular in terms of friendships. I think Ireland would be a great place to live if you were a freelance writer or stock broker or what have you, and could rent or buy a little place in the country and settle down into your own personal paradise. But if you’ve no money, no job prospects, no family or friends and no way to get a visa… I think you’d be very frustrated, lonely and disappointed.  Those kind of feelings, paired with the weather and the often negative perspectives of the Irish population (jovial or not) can really and truly drag you down. I know, because I had many, many dark days living here, feeling trapped and hopeless, and I even had advantages. Bottom line – if you want to live in Ireland, it will be hard work – but it can turn into a joyful and fulfilling challenge if you persevere.

The thing is – I love Ireland for its honesty. The people here, at least the ones I know and love, largely just live their lives based on tradition, instinct and heart. For better or worse, they do what feels good seemingly without as much fear of the risks, or of what anyone thinks. They fall in love, they travel, they sing, they dance, they go cycling, they swim in the freezing sea, they smoke and drink, they eat meat, they eat cake, they go to Mass, they walk and walk and walk. Since returning, I just feel such a love and a respect for the way people live their lives here. They understand mortality, and they just get on with it. In America, I feel like so often we plan our lives, some of us rigidly so. We’ll have this many children and save this much money and we’ll go on this holiday and do this diet and meet these friends on this day. We don’t just show up for a cup of tea. We don’t risk looking silly. When faced with indecision in relationships, we usually choose security, even if that means being alone. And I think we miss out, a lot.

It’s been great to get out of Silicon Valley and come back to Ireland, if nothing else than to remember how to be true to myself.

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