City dwellers trying to stay connected to rural Ireland

A number of rural-born city dwellers discuss their links with their home places

Paul, Matthew, Zoe, Ryan, Lèon and Amy Fox enjoy the banks of the river Moy in Ballina, Co Mayo. Paul and Lèon moved there from Dublin in 2004 when they were starting their family

Paul, Matthew, Zoe, Ryan, Lèon and Amy Fox enjoy the banks of the river Moy in Ballina, Co Mayo. Paul and Lèon moved there from Dublin in 2004 when they were starting their family

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 01:00

Ask Padraig McKeon where he is from and the reply is immediate: “Sligo,” he says without a moment’s hesitation, although he hasn’t lived in the county in over 30 years, has no immediate family living there and intends spending the rest of his days in Dublin.

More than 165,000 Irish people living in Dublin were born elsewhere in Ireland, according to the 2011 census. However, for many of those born outside the city the fact that they live in Dublin has not diminished their connection to where they grew up.

McKeon, a 48-year-old communications consultant originally from Riverstown in east Sligo, has lived in Dublin since 1983 but returns to his home county 10-12 times a year.

He has retained a connection through a long association with the GAA, first as a player and later as a coach, and through a business interest in local radio station Ocean FM. More recently he became involved with Team Sligo, a public-private initiative set up in 2012 to develop economic and tourism opportunities in the county, and has since become chairman of the Sligo Live music festival.

Although McKeon concedes that “no two people are the same” when it comes to how they feel about their original home place, for him, despite being happy living in Dublin, Sligo offers a “sense of place, a sense of where you’re from”.

“There’s a pleasure in the familiar, old friends, old places. I know the roads, I know how people work, I know the moods, I know the villages, I understand Sligo politics ... I still read the local paper every week – I’ve never not done that.

“It’s that general sense of knowing where things are at: that familiarity never leaves you and that is a comforting thing. I’m very comfortable going back.”

Still contributing

However, he says that, although he remains very involved in his home county, he does not consider himself part of the community in Sligo. “It think it would be very presumptuous of me to say I was part of the community ... I don’t think I have the right to say that but I’d like to think I’m still contributing to the community, that I’m a part of the extended community.”

So what is it about his connection to Sligo that is so special? “While we’re all, in inverted commas, ‘citizens of the world’, we’re all from somewhere,” he says. “I think for anybody, it’s really important to have that sense of place.”

It is a sentiment shared by former senator Joe O’Toole, who says he has never outgrown his home place, Dingle in Co Kerry, despite having lived in Dublin for over five decades.

“It is very much a part of me ... I feel the same connection for it that I felt when I was growing up.” Asked why his connection to home remains so strong despite the passing years, he points to family connections and long-lasting friendships but he also points to other factors: “When I come over the Conor Pass towards Dingle there is that heartbeat of expectancy every time; there is something majestic and extraordinary about the physicality of the place,” he says.

“It is that solid sense of place that you really have to have – it’s something I feel strongly about and it’s something I encouraged in my own kids – I wanted them to have a strong sense of place for where they’re from in Dublin too.

No going back

“I have no time for those parents who want their kids to cheer for Donegal or Kerry just because they’re from there,” he says.

However, he says he has no intentions of moving bac.: “I wouldn’t have any need to shift to live in Dingle – you take west Kerry with you, that’s what they say, and it’s there with you unchanging.”

Sligo man Vincent Brett of Willis Insurance has lived in Dublin since 1972. He says that he has maintained strong connections with his home place through friends and golf connections, but also by a decision taken by him and his siblings to maintain their mother’s house after she died five years ago.

“We invested a bit in the house so that we had an identity, a place to go back to,” the 62-year-old says, adding that he feels just as much at home in Sligo as he does in his adopted home of Dublin, where he is involved with Kilmacud Crokes GAA club and Macra na Feirme.

The latter organisation also attracted Caroline Cross, a 25-year-old barrister who grew up on a farm in Co Laois: she joined the Treble R Macra na Feirme in Dublin city during her studies in UCD, to get to know people from outside her chosen profession.

“It’s a great way to meet people ... a lot of people from Dublin would have their school friends so it’s nice to meet other people who are from the country as well,” she says.

However, after seven years in the capital, she has no intention of moving back to a rural setting. “To be honest I love Dublin. It feels so much like home, I couldn’t imagine leaving at this stage ... my whole social life revolves around it now. I even tried for the Dublin Rose,” she says.

“I count Dublin as my home, and I count Laois as my home but none of my friends are there – they have emigrated or dispersed somewhere else ... For the first year in college a lot of people went home, but then I got my first boyfriend and stayed in Dublin a little bit more, and things drift on.”

Although she still goes home about twice a month to visit her parents and brothers who live there, she feels that she is “a little bit apart” from the local community: “[People] wouldn’t really know me down there anymore: they know that ‘that’s Jim’s daughter’ but they wouldn’t know who I actually was.”

However, there are also those who, despite having a love for Dublin, eventually move back to the country.

Lèon Fox, who is 33, moved home to Ballina, Co Mayo, in 2004, having spent more than two years in the capital, a decision she and her Dublin-born husband took when they found out they were having their first child.

Lure of return

“For me it was definitely financial,” she says looking back. “We were able to buy a house here straightaway which is something we probably wouldn’t have been able to do in Dublin. House prices were double what they were in Ballina. We were paying huge rent in Dublin, and we didn’t want to be moving every few years when we were having a child: we wanted stability for him ... Also I wanted to be near to my family.

“I loved living in Dublin ... I had a great social life and the job I was doing [working for a concert promoter] meant I was going to concerts every weekend.

“The odd time I think ‘did I make the right decision?’ but I look at my kids and see how happy they are: as we speak I’m watching them playing on the street outside the house. I don’t know where we would have got that in Dublin.”