I began my own adventures overseas in Ireland. Early one autumn morning what today seems like a lifetime ago, I packed my then 8-year-old daughter Kaitlin, my laptop, and eight very oversized suitcases into an SUV. Then Kaitlin, my husband (of one month at the time) 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 14 years 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, an estate agent 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 single 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 lived in Ireland for nearly seven years. 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 our own 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 the years pass, I’m finding that the Irish are surprising me again.
They’re making me homesick. E-mails and letters from those in Ireland with whom we were fortunate enough to forge long-lasting relationships are helping me to see life in this country anew.
Lief and I arrived in Waterford with a clear agenda. We were there to do business. And, in this regard, we sometimes found the Irish as maddening as, over the years, we have also sometimes found the Nicaraguans, the Belizeans, the Ecuadorians…
Now, with age and time, my perspective is shifting.
One day, after we’d been living in Waterford for maybe three years, a couple of readers stopped by the office. They were Indians, in the country to investigate the possibilities for relocating their software company from India to Ireland. Did I have any advice for them, 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 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 Indian couple was confused when I warned them away.
“Don’t come to Ireland to run an efficient 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 much better options. But if your agenda is something else, you might want to take a close look at this little emerald isle.
We lived here during the apex of the Celtic Tiger, which generated great amounts of wealth, more money than this island had ever known. I’d say that, 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 stage. I’d say that, in this regard, it failed completely.
But, today, when I receive an e-mail from one of our friends in Waterford, the things that come to mind have nothing to do with business.
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 Jack. I think of the few times we braved the beaches at Tramore, sitting on the sand in sweaters, shivering and shaking our heads, 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 more, too, the Ireland beyond the fabled Celtic Tiger and the current economic calamity.
The Ireland that right now is more affordable to own than it has been in a decade and that, if our local friends’ predictions are on target, may become as affordable again as it was when we arrived on the scene nearly 14 years ago.
As property prices continue down, my renewed interest continues to expand.
Which is why we’ve given over this month’s issue of my Overseas Retirement Letter to Ireland (specifically the Iveragh Peninsula) and, as well, why we’ve decided to hold our 2012 Live & Invest in Europe Conference in Dublin. I’m keen for an excuse to put my feet on the ground in the Auld Sod again, not only because of my family’s connections with this country, but also because Ireland makes more sense as an overseas retirement choice right now than it has in a very long time.
Ireland is returning to her pre-Celtic Tiger roots. The economy has collapsed. The country fears bankruptcy. Real estate values have fallen 50% and more country-wide. This is a country in crisis, and, as you know, crisis means opportunity.
More than distressed real estate bargains (which are aplenty in Ireland today), though, this country holds out the promise of a peaceful, tranquil retirement amidst landscapes and seascapes that qualify as among the world’s most glorious (Ireland Correspondent and Waterford native Lynn Mulvihill introduces you to some of the most beautiful in this month’s ORL feature report).
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.
In the course of but two decades, Ireland has seen unprecedented boom and dramatic bust. Through the wild up and down, though, she has retained her heart. Irish retirement living is as appealing and charming an idea as it ever was, and today it’s also, again, affordable.