‘The impression I got was of a country thriving’
On a recent visit, Trevor Carolan saw positive signs that he might be able to return to live in Ireland some day
I had mixed feelings about coming back to Ireland for a holiday. I was expecting doom and gloom, a miserable vibe about the place. I imagined boarded up shops and people walking around with long, forlorn faces.
I hadn’t been back since I left in early 2009 for New Zealand. All I had heard on the news and from phone calls to my family were tales of woe about the state of the country. I thought I would be stuck in the house a lot too, as none of my friends or family would have any bloody money to go to the pub.
But this was not my experience of Ireland during the five weeks I spent there recently. Not at all. The impression I got was of a country that is positively thriving. Ireland never seemed so lively and good-humoured.
Each day I went with my family for drives to neighbourhoods like Dun Laoghaire and Bray, Rathmines and Ranelagh; places I remembered fondly and figured would be a good barometer of how Ireland had changed. I saw busy shops, quaint cafes which were usually full, and artisan stores where you could buy original and offbeat stuff. During the much vaunted Celtic Tiger years I found Ireland a crassly materialistic place, but now it seems to be a more appealing country to live in than it had ever been.
I am not naïve enough to believe the recession has ended and it is all hunky dory. I know jobs are thin on the ground and a lot of people are struggling. Perhaps if I had visited less affluent suburbs I would be telling a different story. Or would I? I am originally from Walkinstown. I went back again to have a look around, and it didn’t seem in bad shape either.
Ireland was also far cheaper than I expected. A ball of mozzarella cheese in the local Lidl was only 50 cents. The equivalent costs about NZ$10 in New Zealand as they have to import it. Even Superquinn, which I always thought were rip-off merchants seemed to have lowered their prices considerably, parhaps in order to be able to compete with the rival chains.
And what about the people? They were as warm and personable as ever. I was expecting a bit of curtness here and there – if people were stressed out with money problems, they would hardly be falling over you. Yet, just about everywhere I went, people were nice and gave you the time of day.
I often found Ireland a class-ridden country when I lived here before but there seemed to be less of that, or perhaps I have grown less class conscious living in New Zealand. But I did detect a little snobbery here and there. My wife and I were in a Ranelagh cafe one morning, which didn’t look much from the outside but was of positively Tardis proportions inside, full with people talking loudly. The Celtic Tiger lived on in this place, with the woman running the show strutting around like a peacock. It made us uncomfortable, so we quickly drank our coffees and left. It was a minor blip in what was otherwise a great holiday.
I lived in London in the mid-90s but returned in 1997. I hated being back, and felt I couldn’t relate to my surroundings anymore. I was in my 20s then but I am 40 now and have a very different perspective on the world. I have learned to appreciate what is good in Ireland and cherish my time there. I sat in pubs this time around and didn’t feel that alienation I felt years ago. This time I said to myself – “this place is really chilled out. I could live here again.”
I am back in New Zealand now but I find myself missing Ireland like mad. But the sad reality is that going back is not a viable option, for the moment at least. Although the economy seems to be improving, I think it will be some time before there are jobs readily available again. Also, my wife is from New Zealand and wants to stay here with her family, though she likes Ireland and is “open to the idea of going back some day”. To me, that’s a bit of hope that the door is being left open, and to be frank, I need that.