Of all the things I thought would kill me, the hills of Wicklow town were pretty far down the list. But I think they might actually kill me. From a distance they look harmless; pleasant, even. But up close they are brutal. Every morning, as I push the buggy to the crest of another cruelly steep incline, I’m reduced to a sweaty, panting heap.
What kind of mad mountain people founded such a place? Our bodies were surely not made to traverse daily this wild and untameable landscape. I feel like Frodo, scrabbling up the side of Mount Doom. Or maybe I just need to get fit.
Such thoughts clutter my brain as I pause to catch my breath at the top of one of these hills. And then I turn to take in the view. The whole town is laid out: I can see the pier, the lighthouse, the harbour with the rusty, colourful fishing boats coming in. Sammy the Seal will be down there, bobbing in the harbour, waiting to be thrown a few spare fish. Beyond I can see the ruins of the Black Castle. To the north I follow the long, curving line of the bay to the Sugar Loaf. (I’m so used to looking from the opposite side it still feels as if I’m facing south.) And behind it all the sea. The glorious sea.
Here you walk past a person on the street and they say hello, then say something kind to your child. You feel part of a community. This might seem like an Ireland that exists only in the imaginations of American tourists, but it's real
In the morning when I open the front door, there it is; the horizon rising impossibly high. On a warm, still day its turquoise hue looks almost tropical. Other days it is a slate-grey broiling mass indistinguishable from the dark sky above. This is one of the things I love most about living in Wicklow. I will never tire of staring at the sea and breathing in the salt air. It soothes the mind.
What else? Unexpectedly, I have been genuinely taken aback by the friendliness of strangers here. Even the motorists seem to (whisper it) treat pedestrians with respect. The town is dotted with zebra crossings and absolutely everyone stops to let you cross. Even if you’re not at one of these designated crossings, a ludicrously high number of drivers will stop to let you get to the other side of the road anyway. It’s extraordinary, really. How can a place so close to Dublin feel so different? There seems to be an unwritten rule to just be decent behind the wheel.
In fact, judging by how many people cheerily greet you and each other on the street, this seems to be an ethos adopted outside of the car, as well. So what, you might think: people say hi to each other on the street all the time. To which I would reply, Do they? Sure it happens in Dublin, but only sometimes, and usually only with people over a certain age.
Here, everyone says hello. I never thought such a thing would make me happy, but here we are. You walk past a person on the street and they say hello, then they say something kind to your child and you feel good and grateful and part of a community. I know how dangerously close I am to describing a version of Ireland that exists only in the imaginations of American tourists, but it’s true. Maybe that’s nonsense. Maybe I’m just in the honeymoon period.
Maybe every person reading this who doesn’t live in Dublin is right now rolling their eyes, thinking: now he gets it.
If you are thinking of buying a house outside Dublin, there is plenty to consider. You have to weigh up what you'll gain, and what you'll leave behind. There's more to this decision than lower house prices. It's not easy. It's stressful and scary
But of course I miss Dublin. I miss being able to walk to the cinema. I miss ordering a decent Indian takeaway. (Jesus Christ, I miss this so much.) I miss being a short walk from a friend and a pint. I miss the Georgian buildings, the museums, cans on the canal on a sunny evening. It will be strange not raising our kids in Dublin. Almost every street holds an associated memory.
If you are thinking of buying a house outside Dublin, there is plenty to consider. You have to weigh up what you’ll gain, and what you’ll leave behind. There’s more to this decision than lower house prices. It’s not easy. It’s stressful and scary. Doubt can be a difficult thing to overcome, but focus on the benefits. Before long you’ll find yourself at the top of a hill, looking back with satisfaction at how far you’ve come.
When you approach one of life’s tricky forks in the road, it is a rare privilege to know for certain you’ve taken the right path, yet this is where we now find ourselves. Our children are happy, and that – sticking with the two roads metaphor – has made all the difference.