My international commute: My family see me 12 days a month

Readers share their stories of keeping a home in Ireland and working abroad

A long commute means less time with family and little or no social life on weekdays, but these five Irish commuters agree: the sacrifices are worth the gains. Video: Kathleen Harris

 

Ireland’s “commuting class” is growing, as increasing numbers travel longer distances - by choice or necessity - to get from home to work. Among them are a growing cohort of people who are travelling internationally, keeping a home in Ireland while working abroad.

In response to Simon Carswell’s feature in Weekend Review on the lives of Irish commuters, readers have been sending us their commuting experiences. Below is a selection of the stories we received from long-distance international commuters. To share yours, email commuters@irishtimes.com.

James Flaherty: ‘My current situation allows me 12 days with my family in one go’

Since 2008 I have been commuting to various locations throughout the UK and Europe. I work in the offshore wind energy sector, and am currently in Germany working as a commissioning engineer for a Spanish multinational, as a self-employed contractor.

From 2008 to 2011 I was abroad for four to eight weeks at a time, travelling back to Ireland a week to 10 days to see my girlfriend (now my wife) and family. At the same time, I was trying to build my house on the home farm in Galway. Since 2011, my time abroad has been less; normally 16 days away and home for 10 to 12 days.

The commute has got all the harder since last December when our first child arrived. I only made the birth by a few hours as she came three weeks early. Luckily I was on my way to the airport in Germany when I got the call.

Over the last 12 months, I was thinking of moving home permanently and was actively job hunting. Most jobs in my field are based in Dublin, but moving the family from Galway isn’t an option as my wife is a primary teacher and loves where she works. Galway is also where all our family are, and it’s a good place to raise our daughter.

So I would probably have to commute to Dublin, driving four hours a day, or rent a room in Dublin and spend Monday to Friday with only weekends at home. Financially and logistically, it wouldn’t make sense.

My current situation allows me 12 days with my family in one go, which isn’t too bad really. And once this current job is complete, I will have two months off before I hopefully find another contract, either in the UK or Europe.

Charlie Travis: ‘You can’t hold your baby daughter or hug your wife in digital space’

I live in Grapevine in Texas, where I teach at the University of Arlington, and my wife Eadaoin resides with our two young children, Senan (5) and Saoirse (3 months) in Artane in Dublin. Over the past year I have “commuted” four times from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to Ireland. My most recent trip back was to be with my wife as she gave birth to our daughter Saoirse.

I am originally from New Hampshire. I completed a PhD in geography from Trinity College Dublin in 2006, where I am still a visiting research fellow. Once my Artane-based wife Eadaoin and I started having children I concluded that long-term job prospects for academics like me with young families were better in the US.

As a dual passport holder, I breeze back and forth, but Eadaoin and the children are in Ireland, living with my loving in-laws, as the recent birth of Saoirse and the Green Card application process have delayed our family move. Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Vodafone Red Roaming provide the illusion of closeness, but you can’t physically play with your son, hold your baby daughter or hug your wife in digital space. We persevere.

My long-distance commute from Artane in Dublin to the University of Texas in Arlington keeps with the pattern of my Irish-American family experience of moving back and forth between Ireland and the US, which dates back to 1847.

Greta Kelly and her husband Shane Minogue on the balcony of their apartment overlooking the Shadwell Basin in Wapping. They commute regularly between London and Cork.
Greta Kelly and her husband Shane Minogue on the balcony of their apartment overlooking the Shadwell Basin in Wapping. They commute regularly between London and Cork.

Greta Kelly: ‘We have the best of both worlds’

My husband Shane works for an Irish software company. He was sent to Singapore six years ago, where we lived for almost three years. While working for another company previously, we had spent time in Germany and Paris. There was no question of commuting back then.

Three years ago we commenced our Clonakilty to London commute. Ryanair have several flights a day from Cork Airport and we book up to two months in advance in order to get low fares. Sometimes Stansted Express costs more than the flight.

We seldom travel together as I spend at least 70 per cent of my time in Clonakilty and Shane spends 70 per cent of his time working in the Square Mile, but we spend most weekends together. We often miss social occasions in both countries, but we feel we have the best of both worlds.

We live in two very different places: a vibrant, friendly town in rural Ireland, and a cosmopolitan city of more than 8 million people. The simple arrangement would be to rent out our house and move to London, but we love our community in Clonakilty, where it can take an hour on Saturday to walk down the main street, chatting with friends and neighbours along the way. Shane found a tiny and very expensive apartment in Wapping, an area which has a village feel to it, and we are beginning to make friends in the neighbourhood.

The downside to being a “trailing spouse” is my own career has suffered. Before leaving for Singapore I was working as a national tour guide for German speaking groups, specialising in agritours. Because of my toing and froing across the Irish Sea I have been unable to continue that. 

The shrinking Pound is also taking its toll. As Shane is based in London, he is paid in Sterling. We are running a car and home in Ireland with the usual ensuing bills, the recent 20 per cent drop in the exchange rate is having an impact on our budget.

Jeanne McSherry: ‘Driving takes much longer but I prefer it to flying’

I am from Dublin but am based in London where I buy and renovate small flats to rent out. I travel frequently by ferry to Ireland in my jeep. Fortunately I am self-employed, so can travel at times that are convenient for me. 

I became a commuter accidentally. While living in London in 2008, my mother became very frail with signs of early dementia. I was trying to work out a way of spending more time with her in Dublin, while also renovating a cottage in Co Wicklow, which I intended to be my retirement home. I was unable to find the variety of unusual items I wanted for the cottage, so looked to England instead and brought them over in my jeep. This became a regular occurrence. 

Driving takes much longer but I prefer it to flying, which I find stressful. I do not have to lug suitcases or bulky items at check-in. I book a cabin for rest and privacy. Feeling the rocking motion of The Isle of Inishmore as it churns through the swollen waves feels very calming, as though I am in a transition space between two different worlds. I cast off the pressures of living in London before donning the cloak of Ireland’s culture and its people, who have wit and humour not so prevalent in London. 

The only drawback is the long drive from London to the ferry in Pembroke in West Wales, but I break the journey by stopping off at a motorway motel overnight on the M4. Fares are reasonable if I book in advance and travel midweek. I usually catch the ferry in the early hours when there is not much traffic apart from the ubiquitous Nolan HGVs.

Seeing the old familiar landmarks as the boat approaches Rosslare or Dublin Port, where the faded remains of the white-painted Odlum’s flour factory or the Pigeon House on the South Wall emerge into view, is the signal that I am home at last, and the many miles of driving were all worthwhile. I must be a home bird; it is only when I am back in Ireland that I feel I truly belong. 

Mary Rooney: ‘At this stage of our lives, we won’t miss the commuting’

We have loved France for more than 30 years, heading off with Brittany ferries from Ringaskiddy to Roscoff in northwest France, each year visiting a different location with our son and daughter when they were young. When our daughter married and moved there, and the babes arrived, we wanted to be with them as much as possible. At that stage there were two little ones, now there are five.

While visiting a friend here in the Charente in 2005, we admired the house next door. “It’s for sale you know,” Karin said. We were totally smitten. The lovely gardens and detached house were perfect. A few months later, after much soul searching we walked up the drive to our French house, and so began our regular commute between Ireland and France.

My husband was still busy working in Ireland, so he travelled back and forth regularly, but I was fortunate enough to be a self employed as an occupational health nurse, and could choose what hours I worked.

Traipsing over and back was difficult at times but with Ryanair services from La Rochelle and Aer Lingus from Bordeaux, both only 90 minutes from us here in Cognac, commuting was easy enough. Being on my own here for some of the time was not easy, but it also made me more self-sufficient. I was available to drive the children to and from school and be useful to our daughter and her family, and still keep up my nursing when I chose to work.

The French are not like the Irish, you can’t just drop in for a chat so even after 12 years here we still do not have many friends. The plan is to return home full-time and our house here is now for sale.

At this stage of our lives, we won’t miss the commuting. It’s time to settle; even our GP says, “you need to move back to be near the services”. But France will always have a special place in our hearts.

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