Moving home to Ireland was like a series of ice-bucket challenges
Ireland's not perfect, but it is home. It draws me back every time, despite its many flaws
Michelle Walsh has moved back to Dublin after time spent living in Morocco, Germany and France.
Moving home to Ireland has been like experiencing a series of ice-bucket challenges in quick succession, with no recovery time.
There have been the obvious shocks. The weather – never have I been so cold, for so long, not even when I used to take my students on school trips to Finland. This winter feels like it began about two millennia ago. And January must have been the longest month since records began. The snow, while shocking, was somehow comforting in its ability to shut down the entire country, proving, at least, some things never change. Despite several thousand tonnes of salt.
The prices, of everything. I won’t even begin to list them.
Homelessness and everything related to housing, cost, lack of availability, rents, taxes and the behemoth that is Airbnb.
The passion for Ikea. Well, we have Scandinavian weather now, so we may as well embrace other aspects of their culture. Their dramas, dark and murderous, are all over the TV schedules too. Whatever happened to Miss Marple?
But this is all superficial. You could come home for a weekend and notice most of this on the way in from the airport. It was only when I began interacting with Ireland Inc again that the real shocks were delivered.
I came home because my mother was in hospital. I’ve had to interact with the health service before. It was tough then. It’s tougher now, as overcrowded and underfunded as ever. And there is a shortage of doctors. The one positive is that the ones who are there are superhuman.
Visiting my mother in a geriatric ward was new to me though. My mother wasn’t old when I emigrated. My nephew was hospitalised too, with acute appendicitis, in a paediatric ward. Witnessing both ends of the spectrum was not pleasant viewing. I had to deal with the Social Welfare department at this time too. It took four months to get a response.
My washing machine leaked, which sounds innocuous but led to a series of events, mostly unfortunate, involving a slick estate agent and his dodgy builder side-kick. When the builder was asked why he didn’t show up for a meeting one day, he calmly replied that he had been detained in Mountjoy. That’s overnight in the prison, not stuck in traffic on the square.
A complaint lodged with the PRTB against the estate agent took four months to get an answer. Four months seems to be an average response time for everything. It turns out there is no-one to complain to about builders, you must go to court.
Never mind the horror stories though, business is booming in building. Three houses on my street alone are being renovated. And there is a megalith being built at the end of it. It’s noisy and disruptive and most significantly – unfinished. It was meant to be completed last October, but still resembles a scene from Aleppo on the six o’clock news.
Schools are short of teachers. They are all in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, because of the two-tier pay system that was introduced during the recession, the accompanying slashing of the pension, and probably the weather. Not even the amazing holidays can keep them here.
Ireland still has the push/pull magnetic force that comes with living on an island
As staff levels fall, attendance levels rise. My four-year-old niece cannot get into the school her three older siblings attended because of a seriously flawed and easily abused admissions system. Imaginary children, fake addresses and blurred parish lines are not the stuff of fiction but of present-day school application forms.
Then there is the crime. Within six months of being home, there were three burglaries. One after the other in quick succession. We knew the gardaí by their first names.
It is all the same old stories I had left behind; politicians, mostly men, in the same suits but with different faces – are they even a different party? They do look younger than when I left. Now they are talking about abortion, which feels like being shoved into a time travelling washing machine and turning on the spin cycle from 1983.
Some things haven’t changed. Dermot Bannon is still designing the same house all over the country. RTÉ is still providing Irish versions of franchised shows, Dancing with the Stars being the shiniest of them.
It still takes ages to get an NCT and a driving test slot. The Leaving Certificate still hasn’t been reformed. And the weather is still bad. So is the traffic.
Some things have changed – the cost of gym membership has dropped, an amazing library with spectacular views has opened in Dún Laoghaire, the Luas has been elongated and extended. There are lots of new cars on the roads, lots of new buildings springing up, rent-a-room relief has increased to €14,000 per year, tax-free, if you fancy sharing your home with a complete stranger, although Airbnb seems to dominate this market. And First Dates is addictive viewing.
It’s home. It’s familiar. It has changed in my absence. But not utterly and it still has the push/pull magnetic force that comes with living on an island, that makes me repel the familiar to explore and discover, but draws me back every time.
Michelle Walsh is from Dublin. When she left Ireland she went to Marrakesh, then Agadir in Morocco, followed by Germany and most recently France, near Cannes.