Emigrating in our 50s: ‘We wish we had left Ireland sooner’
‘I feel my country has let me down. I never wish to see the place again’
John D’Arcy and his wife Susan: ‘I sincerely believe any young person with talent and a third-level qualification can do better for themselves outside Ireland. I wish I had left 35 years ago.’
Articles in The Irish Times about the appearance of green shoots in the Irish economy mean little to me and my wife. After a lifetime of study and hard work in Ireland, we found ourselves, after December 2008, facing oblivion. I lost my job as a senior design engineer and despite 35 years of experience, I was unemployed for the next three.
My wife’s earnings as a professional marketer kept us going, along with a little money I earned teaching guitar and playing in restaurants. Just as I got a job again, she lost hers. She was unemployed for three years. We had six years of “arrangements” with our mortgage provider, and with only one salary things became tougher and tougher. We shed every non-essential cost possible, and cancelled TV subscriptions, health insurance, life insurance and any form of socialising or entertainment.
We then discovered my wife had developed a mild cognitive impairment, which caused short-term memory loss. Her diagnosis took two years, largely due to the interminable waiting lists so common in the Irish health system. Her condition meant she was unlikely to return to work, and we would never be able to repay our mortgage.
Twelve years before this, we had the dream of owning a property in the sun, so we bought a small two-bed apartment in a busy little seaside town in the south of France. We planned to retire to it in our 60s. Towards the end of my unemployment I had worked part-time for three weeks for a company whose sole purpose was to “recover” houses from families on behalf of the banks; I was under no illusion that this would be the eventuality for us too.
So we made the decision to sell our home in Dublin and, last March, to relocate to the small apartment in France. Almost all our furniture and possessions went to Oxfam. We saw no other choice. We knew it would be better for us to be poor in the French sunshine without a mortgage, with the chance of a few gigs every now and then.
At 59 and 57 years of age, we have eight more years to survive on our savings, and the remaining equity we took from the sale of the Dublin house, until we qualify for my Irish State pension. We live quietly, simply. We now have French social security numbers, tax numbers and residency status, and while the paparasserie (red tape) took some getting used to, we adore France. We only wish we had left sooner.
We live right beside a bustling port town in the south, which gets an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. The health system is superb, and there are virtually no waiting lists. We immediately found a specialist for my wife’s annual cognitive check. In Dublin, that process took 18 months.
As a man born in Ireland, I feel my country has let me down. I never wish to see the place again. My career in engineering taught me there are “cute hoors” at every turn in Irish society and business life. The unpunished bankers and corrupt developers who brought Ireland to its knees prove that incompetence exists everywhere, right to the top. Unless that mentality changes, Ireland is doomed to be a two-tier society. The obscenely wealthy take advantage while thousands of others, like us, have no option but to emigrate. I sincerely believe any young person with talent and a third- level qualification can do better outside Ireland. I wish I had left 35 years ago.
I feel as if my pockets have been picked. We found ourselves at the point of becoming destitute in Ireland. I studied for an engineering degree, my wife for her marketing diplomas, and we both worked hard for everything we had, including our little French apartment. Now we thank God we bought it, because it has become our saviour. We will live out our lives here, and die and be buried in France, not Ireland. Our language studies improve our French every day, and Ireland and all its problems fade ever further into our rearview mirror.