It’s getting to the point where I’m craving a life in the suburbs

Tanya Sweeney: My priorities are shifting – I don’t need to be near the fun, cool stuff

In the last few weeks, the people of Ireland could feasibly be broken into two factions: the haves and the have-nots. Nope, nothing to do with children, or holiday homes, or even employment. Instead, I'm talking gardens.

How I've envied my social media friends with their lush, landscaped gardens, or their functional patio furniture, or even their small paddling pools. An Instagram photo of someone enjoying sundowners in their own back garden is enough to tip me over the edge. Honestly, I could never have foreseen a scenario in which I'd look at someone's modest back garden and feel genuine envy (and, as an interesting chaser, guilt for worrying about gardens when there are clearly bigger problems in the world). And yet here we are.

For obvious reasons, 2020 is likely to make a lot of people reappraise their home environment and evaluate their lifestyle. The city has always held huge appeal for me, mainly because of its energy and going-out qualities; bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, friends nearby. But it’s times like this – or perhaps, at this particular life stage – that you question the point of city living.

I asked a friend about his recent move to a commuter town, and he deemed it the best decision he'd ever made

My priorities are shifting right beneath my feet: I don’t need to be near the fun, cool stuff. The buzz of nightlife and the energy of a young neighbourhood holds nothing for me. With a 14-month-old child, I don’t get much opportunity to enjoy the full bounty of amenities on offer in the city anyway. I find myself craving space. A garden. A settled neighbourhood. Community. Family. The sonorous pace of the suburbs, away from the vegan pizza vans, the DJ gigs, the flat whites and the wine tastings.


I asked a friend recently – also a new parent – about his recent move to a commuter town, and he deemed it the best decision he’d ever made. “Fine, there’s no Bunsen here, but whenever you go into the city, you really enjoy it for what it is,” he reasons. “You get more value out of Dublin once you move away.”

I grew up in the suburbs of west Dublin. As a kid, and especially as a teenager, I was oddly embarrassed by how pedestrian and uneventful this non-place was: row after row of identical houses, in neat, orderly lines. The only way you might differentiate one house from another was through their choice of curtains. And everything happened behind those, giving the impression, to my young mind anyway, that nothing was happening at all.

The city had its own specific identity and atmosphere. So, too, did rural Ireland. The suburbs, meanwhile, seemed like a no-fly zone in which nothing of note ever happened, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Except that, when you look at it all in the rear-view mirror, there was nothing samey or oppressively boring or pedestrian about suburban Dublin at all. Come to think of it, the whys and wherefores of the estate I grew up on were absolutely bewitching. As kids, we’d duck in and out of each other’s houses: a huge, boisterous, fluid tribe. Friends would stay for dinner if there were enough Findus Crispy Pancakes to go round. Sometimes – and I don’t know how or why we ever did this – my friends and I would swap bedrooms for the night, so that they would be sleeping in my house and I in theirs. Perhaps we fancied ourselves as characters in our own high-concept, body-swap story. Yet no one’s parents seemed to mind. Everyone felt safe, and comfortable, which amounts to as ideal a childhood as one could hope for.

I would rarely admit to my suburban provenance in London, even to friends who had come from estates

Does this sort of thing happen nowadays? I haven’t lived in suburban Dublin for close to three decades. As soon as I moved to London, I was punch-drunk on how bountiful everything felt, how many people were around, and how near I was to a McDonald’s. I enjoyed that claustrophobic, hemmed-in feeling; I felt energised by how hectic the city’s energy was. It’s no small irony that half the time, I was paying so much rent that I never had enough money to enjoy the city to its fullest. It’s a scenario that, in recent weeks at least, feels all too familiar.

I would rarely admit to my suburban provenance in London, even to friends who had come from estates in Norfolk, Swindon, Scunthorpe or Southend. Somehow, admitting that you came from somewhere where nothing happened felt like admitting that you hadn't lived any kind of life yet. The suburbs felt, to my arrogant and teenaged mind at least, like the kind of place you went to when you gave up living.

The truth is, the suburbs made me who I am, and with any luck, they’ll make my daughter, too.

There’s something about this quotidian rhythm of the suburbs, and its lack of harried, frenzied pace that definitely appeals now. Sitting outside while being overlooked by your neighbours seems like a piece of heaven now; one I never thought I’d even want. Safe, secluded and non-eventful sounds perfect; now, more so than ever.