‘You can’t expect to move back to Ireland and everything to be the same’

Returning to Ireland Q&A: Arts administrator Ruth Mulholland is struggling to find work after moving back from the UK

Why did you decide to return from abroad?

I never meant to be away as long as I was. I was dithering a bit about what I wanted to do after college – I did a Bachelor of Music, so there was no obvious career path for me apart from teaching, which I knew I didn’t want to do. A friend was moving to London to do a Masters, so I decided to go with her and share a flat for a year. She left after nine months, but I ended up staying in the UK for eight years.

My plan was to work in a bar or shop to make some money and try to get an internship in the music industry. Initially, I worked for a jazz agency booking tours for their artists, but about two months into that internship I was offered an interview for a job at a major arts institution. I was surprised when I got a second interview, given my limited experience, and shocked when they actually offered me the job.

I worked there for almost seven years. I was coming up to my 30th birthday and it seemed like a good time to move on. When a maternity cover came up for a larger role in a smaller company, I thought this was the perfect way to gain some valuable experience in a more senior role. It meant a move to Glasgow.


Though I loved the job, the city and the company wasn’t really for me and I decided to leave rather than extend my contract. The year working higher up the ladder hadn’t given me the career boost I had hoped for and although I applied for lots of jobs in London I wasn’t having any luck moving back.

It was then that my mam suggested coming home for a while. My brother was getting married and my parents were moving house, so it seemed the perfect time to come back to Ireland and spend some time with my family.

Where have you moved back to in Ireland?

I’m living in Naas now. I was born and raised in Dublin, but a few months before I decided to come home my parents decided to sell our family home and move out of Dublin. It has definitely been an adjustment.

Did talk of an economic recovery in Ireland influence your decision? Or was it for personal reasons?

It was purely personal reasons that I came home, honestly I hadn’t given much thought to the economic recovery, or lack thereof. I was lucky because I left Dublin before the recession got really bad, so I wasn’t forced to emigrate to look for work.

How much research did you do before leaving the UK? Did you have a job lined up, for example, or had you researched accommodation etc.?

I didn’t put too much thought into coming back home. I’d been back and forth while I was away so it didn’t seem too much of a dramatic change to come back, even though I didn’t have any work lined up. I was fortunate too that I was able to move back in with my parents, and they’ve been happy to have me back (or at least that’s what they say to my face).

What were your initial feelings on return? Has this changed in the last few months?

Moving back was a bit of a whirlwind initially. I came home a week before my brother’s wedding, the day my parents moved into their new house, so my life was full of boxes for a while. It was strange moving back home, without actually being “home”. It took a long time to get used to the idea of living outside of Dublin.

How have you settled back into your social life? Have you reconnected with old friends, or has this been a challenge?

Life has moved on quite a lot in the eight years I was away. Some of my friends are married and have children now. I still see my friends from school regularly, but, as most of them are based in Dublin, it takes a bit more arranging to meet up. Spontaneous nights out are harder to enjoy when you have to run for the last Bus Éireann bus home.

What about work?

Work has been the biggest stumbling block. I worked in arts administration for eight years, and I couldn’t make employers see that where I did that work shouldn’t matter. One recruiter told me that ten years ago she could have got me work no problem, but things were different now. I’m temping at the moment, but that’s maybe one or two days in a week if I’m lucky. I’ve got two jobs lined up in the UK, one in June and one in the autumn, and think ultimately I’ll have to go back if I want to continue to work in the arts.

How does the cost of living compare to the UK? Is Ireland more or less expensive than it was when you left 8 years ago?

Ireland is definitely more expensive than Glasgow, and maybe on a par or slightly higher than London. I lived in a one bedroom flat 15 minutes walk from the city centre in Glasgow, and there’s no way I’d be able to afford anything similar here on the salary I was earning.

Have you faced any other challenges since returning?

The real challenge I’ve found since moving home is remembering that everyone hasn’t been in a time warp for the last eight years, people have moved on, relationships change and that’s life. You can’t expect to come back and have everything be the same as it was.

Are there any other downsides to being back?

I miss my friends in London and Glasgow. I had an established a life in London and even though I had moved to Glasgow I was down in London quite a bit. With the best of intentions it can be very much out of sight, out of mind and as hard as you try to stay in contact with people, once you’re out of their immediate vicinity it’s hard to remain as close as you were previously.

What are the biggest benefits?

Definitely getting to spend time with my family. It’s still a novelty to see my parents every day. Also my brother met his wife after I’d moved to the UK, so it’s been great being able to spend more time with her and getting to know her better.

What advice would you give others considering the move back?

You can’t expect things to be the same as they were when you left. Embrace the change.

Overall, has the move been worth it?

It has definitely been worth it for me at this time in my life to be at home, and I’m aware it’s a luxury to have the time to decide what I’m going to do next. Career wise, I think I will have to look at moving back to the UK or make the decision to stay and work in a different industry.