I began my own adventures overseas in Ireland.
Early one autumn morning what today seems like a lifetime ago, I packed my 8-year-old daughter Kaitlin, my laptop, and eight very oversized suitcases into an SUV. Then Kaitlin, my husband of one month Lief Simon, and I boarded a plane bound for Dublin.
From there, we three found our way south to Waterford, where we made our home for the next seven years.
When I undertook this move from Baltimore to Waterford nearly two-and-a-half decades ago, I’d already been covering this live and invest overseas beat for 13 years. I thought I knew what I was doing.
Lief and I arrived with our little family and our business, expecting to plug into the kind of infrastructure we were used to back in the States. We thought things like opening a bank account, finding office space, and placing ads for staff would be simple, everyday tasks, to be accomplished in short order.
They weren’t… and getting them accomplished at all, we came to realize, depended not only on how you approached things, but also, in great part, on who you knew.
At first, we couldn’t even decipher the Property For Rent ads in the local papers. Some places were advertised as having “All Mod Cons.” Finally, our first landlord explained, with pride, that houses and apartments with all mod cons were those boasting all modern conveniences… things like central heating.
We were surprised, as well, to find that banks closed for lunch and that the entire city shut down at 5 p.m. We needed to buy a car, but dealerships were open only weekdays and, again, only until 5 p.m.
When were we supposed to go car shopping? We had a business to run.
We felt like we were continually banging our heads against a collective Irish wall. Employment contracts had to allow for tea breaks…
The plumbers and electricians we hired to help with the renovation of the house we finally purchased would go missing for days at a time then return to continue their work as though nothing unusual had happened…
Staff not only got four weeks’ vacation each year by law, but they also took it!
These things were impossible for us hard-charging, Type A Americans to process. How did anyone get anything done in this place, we found ourselves asking ourselves every day.
Finally, frustrated and confused, we had to admit that we weren’t going to change how the Irish lived and did business. We’d have to go along.
And we did. Begrudgingly. We bought a 200-year-old Georgian farmhouse and restored it. We bought another 200-year-old house in the city and renovated it into office space. We hired dozens of employees. We did, eventually, succeed in opening bank accounts and buying cars. We created infrastructure for things like paying bills, shopping for furniture, complying with local tax codes…
I gave birth to our son at Waterford Regional Hospital. He and his sister attended school, made friends, went to birthday parties…
Lief and I made friends, too. Some of our dearest friends today are Waterfordians. They write regularly to keep us in touch with life in this part of the world.
And, as I explained to the Baltimore Style reporter who interviewed me yesterday, as the years have passed, I’ve found that my perspective on Ireland has shifted.
When Lief and I took our leave of the Emerald Isle so many years ago, we’d had it with life among the Irish. They’d frustrated and confounded us at every turn as we’d tried to start a business and build a life.
They didn’t value efficiency or deadlines or any of the other building-a-business things that for us, at the time, were sacrosanct.
A bit of craic over a pint in the pub… a lively discussion around a peat fire on a chilly evening… merry sessions of traditional music…
These were the things that the Irish valued… the ways they most enjoyed spending their time.
Lief and I would shake our heads. Look at these folks… wasting so much time that they could be spending on something more productive!
Today we realize that we were the ones with our priorities upside-down.
One day, after we’d been living in Waterford for three years, a couple of readers stopped by the office. The pair of New Yorkers were in the country to investigate the possibilities for relocating their company from the States to Ireland… just as I had done.
Did I have any advice, they wanted to know…
This was the contradiction of the day. The Celtic Tiger was roaring loud, attracting investors (like us) from far and wide, entrepreneurs and businesspeople looking for opportunity.
But, as I only years later came to realize, we were all misguided.
Ireland was holding out great opportunity, but not of the kind we were in the market for at the time.
That young couple from New York was confused when I warned them away.
“Don’t come to Ireland to run a business,” I told them. “You’ll be driven mad.”
I’d stand by that advice today. But I’d add something.
If your agenda is business, you have better options…
But if your agenda is something else, you might want to take a close look at this little emerald isle.
We lived in Ireland during the apex of the Celtic Tiger, which generated great amounts of wealth, more money than this island had ever known. As a result, the Irish then, like us, were distracted from was right in front of them.
They were busy covering their ancient green land with suburban track homes, shopping malls, and fast-food franchises. We watched as pubs were replaced by nightclubs and as, yes, eventually, car dealerships kept Saturday business hours and banks remained open through lunch.
Ireland wanted so badly to compete on the global business that it lost sight of how it was already head and shoulders above the rest.
Today, when I think of our time in Ireland, I think of the owner of the corner shop across the street from our office…
How he and his wife sent us a small gift when Jack was born and how they inquired after both Jack and his older sister Kaitlin every time we saw them…
I remember the cabinet-maker who helped to restore our big old Georgian house to its original glories, shutter by shutter, wood plank by wood plank…
I think of the castles and the gardens we explored on weekends with Kaitlin and Jackson. I think of the times we braved the beaches at Tramore, sitting on the sand in sweaters, huddled together and shivering, while, out in the cold Irish Sea, the Irish swam and surfed…
I think of cows in the roads and sheep in the fields. Of Kaitlin learning to ride a horse in our front paddock and of Jack learning to walk in our forever muddy back garden…
I think of these things more often as time passes, remember them and appreciate them. And, as a result, appreciate Ireland in ways I wasn’t able to when we called her home.
The timing is good. My focus has returned to this country just as my dollars are strong versus its euros… and its property markets are at the start of an extended decline.
Ireland has long been a top retirement choice, a beautiful, welcoming, peaceful nation of friendly, hospitable folks who speak English and who have a long-standing affinity with the United States. For decades, the retirement daydream of many Americans has been a white-washed, thatched-roof cottage on the Emerald Isle.
Over recent decades, Ireland has seen unprecedented boom and dramatic bust. Through the wild ups and downs, though, she has retained her heart. Irish retirement living is as appealing and charming an idea as it ever was, and, thanks to the current dollar-euro exchange rate, it’s more affordable than it’s been in years.
P.S. The tales of my seven years of adventure living on the Emerald Isle are featured in my newest book, “At Home In Ireland.”
“Why did you write this book now?” the reporter from Baltimore Style magazine asked me yesterday. “I mean,” she said, “it’s so many years later…”
The answer is that my perspective has finally shifted straight.
I couldn’t have written this book even three or four years ago. Only recently have I come to appreciate fully the gifts Ireland gave us.
“At Home In Ireland” is my thank you… to the Emerald Isle and to the Irish who welcomed us and worked so hard to show this pair of hard-charging Yankees what was what.
My marketing team is making it possible for you to obtain a copy of the book free… for a very limited time.