Teeing up a place in the sun
GENERATION EMIGRATION: Emigrating is not just for the young: with sunnier climes and lower living costs, many Irish retirees are moving abroad where pensions stretch further and they enjoy a more active life, writes CIARA KENNY
THE SUN is shining in Vale Judeu in the Algarve. It’s a beautiful spring day and there hasn’t been proper rainfall for six months. Seán Walkin, who moved here with his partner Janine Reiling when he retired seven years ago, is concerned for his garden, but for the hundreds of other Irish retirees settled in the area, the rareness of rain is one of the main reasons they chose to make the Algarve home.
As chairman of the St Patrick’s Society, an Irish club for the area’s older community and their friends, Walkin is well practiced in extolling the virtues of retiring to south Portugal.
“I am 64 in June, fully retired, but I have never been so active in my life. We have a massive garden full of trees and bushes that need to be kept under control, and that keeps me fit,” he says. “The weather is good here all year round, perfect for enjoying the outdoors.”
The society organises lawn bowling and putting competitions, quiz nights, boat trips and walking excursions, as well as an annual gala dinner to mark St Patrick’s Day. “Most people in the club are retired, so we meet up during the week as well as weekends. We often have wine-tasting evenings too, or Portuguese food nights. Anyone can propose an idea for a gathering,” he says.
“The Portuguese austerity measures have kicked in here to a certain extent over the past six months or so, but overall, the cost of living is still much cheaper here than it is in Ireland. The health system is fantastic, and one of my friends is fond of saying that if you are going to have a heart attack, the best place to have it is in Portugal. Not everything is perfect here, but it suits us. I have a good life, and I wouldn’t change it.”
According to Patrick Murphy, who runs retirement and life-planning courses around Ireland, moving abroad in later life was a trend embraced by the Irish during the Celtic Tiger and it has not ceased, even in the recession.
“When I started giving retirement seminars 25 years ago, I never heard mention of any Irish person retiring to Spain or France. That was something the British did, but not the Irish,” he says.
“But with a little more wealth around in the late 1990s and 2000s, people began to consider it as an option for themselves for the future. Many of those who bought holiday homes during the boom are reaching retirement age now and moving abroad on a full-time basis.
“There is a realisation among many older people that their pension, even if it is a small one, will stretch a lot further in other countries than it would in Ireland,” he adds. The market for overseas property has quietened down since the recession hit, but according to Gavan Russell, director of Locations Estate Agency in Dublin, which specialises in European properties, there has been a renewed interest among retirees for homes in certain foreign locations, especially Spain, in the last few months.
“The property market in Spain bottomed out about a year ago. Prices in some resorts dropped by more than half, and it is very possible to find a nice place for as little as €80,000. Russell estimates that older people looking to relocate abroad in retirement now make up at least 60 per cent of their business. With more and more young people and families emigrating in search of work, Murphy has seen an increase in the number of older people joining their children overseas when they retire. “I can see this becoming more common the more difficult things get in this country, and people start considering whether there is a better life for them elsewhere in their older age,” he says.
But relocating in later life and leaving all that is familiar behind is not a decision that should be taken lightly, Murphy warns. “No one should up sticks in older age without giving it serious thought. Missing family will be the biggest drawback, and if you leave your network of friends here, what will you replace it with over there? Will you have people to support you if you or your partner gets sick?”
He also recommends seeking out financial advice before you leave to ensure that your taxes are in order, and that your investments and savings are in the best place for your needs. If you have property in two countries, you might need to make two wills.
But despite his warnings, 50-year-old Murphy’s personal thoughts on the benefits of relocation are clear. “When my kids have flown the nest in about five years’ time, I’m off to Portugal,” he says.
'I was getting tired of the doom and the gloom in Limerick before I left
I HAVE ALWAYS liked Perth, and have visited many times. My brother came out here as a young man more than 40 years ago, with his wife and three small children. I came to visit them for the first time in 1994 after my husband passed away, and have thought about moving here ever since.
My eldest child moved to Melbourne 12 years ago and my second daughter joined her in 2008, so I was able to apply for a visa then as you have to have half of your children living in Australia to qualify.
I was teaching computers in adult education before I left, and I have recently advertised as a babysitter here. I don’t consider myself retired, as to me, being retired means being old, and I am far from old yet. I am only 63.
Perth is an easy-going place, the people are friendly, and the weather is beautiful. In the evenings, I like to walk around Hillarys or Mullaloo Beach, take in the fresh air and have a coffee. Opportunities like this are limited in Ireland because of the weather.
I was getting tired of the doom and gloom in Limerick before I left. Businesses were closing down, and crime seemed to be getting out of hand without anything being done about it. I had my car burned out outside my front door.
I have started to make friends now through my niece and my brother and sister-in-law. My daughters and their six children are only a three-hour flight away now. I have a son and a grandson still in Ireland, and I keep in touch with them on Skype. I would have moved here years ago if I could, but emigrating this far from Ireland is hard when you are over 40.
FROM THE MOMENT I arrived in Ontario from Belfast in January 1975, I suffered from profound homesickness. I went back to Northern Ireland at least once a year, and cherished the dream of one day returning home for good when I retired.
In 2009, after 34 years in Canada, the small software company where I worked closed its doors with one month’s notice. I was six months away from my 60th birthday.
I had no work pension and was too young to receive a state pension. I’d little chance of finding a new job at my advanced age, and the only positive side that I could see was that I would have the opportunity to finally move back to Ireland.
But instead of hopping on a plane home straight away, I hopped on my bike instead. Almost every day during spring and summer, I cycled Montreal’s bike paths, visiting the wonderful Botanical Gardens, Montreal’s regional parks and picnicking by the banks of the great Saint Lawrence River.
As the fall of 2009 advanced and winter set in, I hiked my favourite trails on Mont Royal. I discovered that nature was at her most beautiful in winter.
In June the following year, I went back to Belfast for two weeks. After a few days, I realised that I was seeing the places I loved with my head and not with my heart. I was no longer homesick.
The trip confirmed that I no longer had any great desire to return “home”. Montreal is my home now, the place where I will spend my retirement. What matters most is enjoying life, wherever you live it.”