Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ireland: Still a Great Place to Live

It's 6 AM. I'm sitting in a hotel lobby near Dublin Airport. My father is flying in from Tampa (God bless him) and I'm up early to get some coffee into my system before fighting the traffic to the Arrivals Terminal. I'm talking to Dave, the night porter, and comparing notes. Dave has four kids. He's originally from Navan (where I lived for almost 30 years before escaping to Eyeries in West Cork). Dave is ruminating on his recent decision to move to County Cavan, 40 minutes or so up the road.

"Navan just isn't the same," he says. "It's filled with scumbags. It has too much crime. It's just not a good place to bring up kids anymore."  I can understand his sentiment. The growth of Navan, as well as all other bedroom communities around Dublin, is one of the many issues that propelled me out of the area like a scalded cat.

"What do you think of Cavan?" I ask, sipping my coffee. "Is it better for the kids?"

"Great schools," he responds as he gets ready to open up the hotel for early morning visitors. "Mind you, I love the States."

That catches my attention. "Have you been there?"  He nods. "Once. To Vegas. I loved it."  Me: "But would you live there? I mean, if you could do it, would you bring the kids and wife over and make a new life?"

That catches his attention. "Now I didn't say that, did I?" Dave replies. "Visiting is one thing. But leaving Ireland? Not on your life."

The Pull of Ireland
Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 / 2008, thousands of Irish have had to immigrate to find new jobs and make a new life simply because Ireland was falling apart. Unemployment had surged, approaching 20 percent. The country was littered with ghost estates: new housing construction that had been halted because builders had run out of money. Entire families were being evicted from their homes because they couldn't pay their mortgages. In desperation, many fled to Australia, England, Canada, and the United States seeking a new start.

And yet... they did so reluctantly. They knew they were leaving behind a way of life that can rarely be found any more: people that care. Schools that teach kids how to read, write, and do 'rithmatic. Welcoming smiles of neighbours and friends. Pubs that do much more than serve a Pint but rather are the focus of many rural towns and villages.

In leaving they knew that they were leaving behind walks beneath soft Autumn rains and hikes along windswept ocean side trails. The coo of doves hidden in the branches of tall trees during mid-Summer. They would be abandoning their local GAA teams and the shouts and roars of disappointed Irish fans who watched as the Irish soccer team yet again crashed out of a European Final. They were leaving behind the Pull of Ireland - the magical magnetism of this country that is at the heart and soul of every person who has been born or lived here.

But - they're coming back. As the Irish economy recovers, these Irish immigrants, these stalwart thousands, are beginning to drift home in search of the spirit of Ireland that resides in their hearts. In talking with them, I find that they have enjoyed their time away. They enjoyed the humming city of Sydney and the frantic buzz of New York. They thrived and learned in Dubai. They put shoulders to the wheel of economies in Montreal, London, Berlin, and Madrid. But now many are coming home.

They come home to the open arms of their families. To the fine soft rain that descends to hug them on cool Autumn days. They come home to their mates who have waited for them by turf fires dotted around the country.  They come home to the wonder that is Ireland and to the recovering economy that can once again allow them to live here.

The Irish are on their way back home. They know that despite their travels, despite the trauma of the past few years, Ireland is still a great place to live.

They're coming home. And even if you're not Irish but are pulled here by the magnetism that is Ireland, now is the time to consider making Ireland your home too.

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