Our home abroad: builder from Boyle settles in Sitges

Joan and John Gallagher have converted two homes in the Spanish seaside town

The Gallaghers’ apartment in Sitges, Spain Photograph: Michael Mawson

In 2001 we left our home with our four sons ranging in age from eight to 14 for a new life in Spain. John and I had gone out six months previously to find a place to live and schools for the boys.We had never been to Barcelona or Sitges but had heard they were nice. Having never lived in a city I decided we would take the train to Sitges to see what it was like and within three days had put a deposit on our new home. We returned to Ireland and informed our not-so-enthusiastic boys that we would be moving to a town called Sitges in June for a year.

So at 6am on June 9th, 2001, we pulled out of our driveway in our 20-year-old Winebago which was barely roadworthy but did get us to our destination, and refused to drive anywhere ever again. Winnie was packed with anything we could squeeze into it including a few very sad and tearful children.It was the biggest decision we had ever taken in our lives and for most of the following year all four boys hated us and wanted to return to Boyle.

That year turned into 16 years and there have been many ups and downs, as there would have been had we decided to stay in Ireland. We survived the empty nest syndrome when some of the boys decided to go to places like New Zealand and the Philippines, and I had the holy water out from under the sink pouring it on them like my own mother used to do when I would go to Dublin for a weekend.

We sold the house as it was too big for us and John needed a project to escape to. He had been a builder in Ireland back in the day and had dabbled a little bit here until the crisis hit.We bought a floor of a 200-year-old derelict building in the old part of Sitges .


We decided on two 45sq m apartments instead of one bigger one.We live in one and rent the other one.

Dirty work

The project took one year and John did most of the dirty work himself. He salvaged the original beams where possible, used the rest for bookshelves and table legs, discovered the original floor tiles buried under layers of lino and concrete and scraped centuries of plaster off the walls to expose the original red brick and stone. We bought old shop display cabinets and adapted them for use in the bathrooms and kitchens.We added some of our old pine dressers and wash stands which we had brought over from Ireland a year after we arrived. We won't be able to fit all of our furniture into them but we have picked our favourite pieces.

The Gallaghers’ rooftop terrace in Sitges, Spain. Photograph: Michael Mawson

We can live very well in a small apartment. We have a nice terrace for al fresco dining and wine drinking. We are 20 metres from the beach and are right in the middle of everything in the town centre. Sitges life is an outdoor one, so it’s not necessary to have a big house or apartment. Our garage in Boyle was twice the size of our apartment now. Housework takes 20 minutes and we have everything we need.We no longer have a car as parking is difficult to find. Public transport is very good here and cheap. We have a scooter and a bicycle for shopping etc.

Overall our building experience was good.Spain is infamous for the “mañana” syndrome but we got over the hurdles with some patience and a lot of roaring and shouting. John went bald and I thought about divorce several times during the experience. His hair hasn’t grown back but we’re still together.

For information about the Gallaghers’ rental apartment contact joangallagher50@gmail.com

At Home Abroad

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If you would like to contribute, we're looking for stories of around 500 words that describe your home and how you live in it. Find out how to submit yours here: irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/at-home-abroad-send-us-your-stories-about-where-you-live-1.3005377