"Dublin was rejecting me, as much as I didn't want it to," says Aoife Kelly (38), a freelance PR consultant who recently moved to Foxford, Co Mayo.
As Dublin rents and property prices continue to soar, Kelly is just one of many who left the capital to move to the west of Ireland.
The difference in cost is striking. A recent Irish Times survey found that, in order to buy a house in Blackrock, Co Dublin, you would need to be earning about €166,000 a year. By comparison, the survey found that you could buy a house in Roscommon and Longford – two of the cheapest counties in the country – on minimum wage.
Leaving Dublin was not an easy choice for Kelly. She had been living in Dublin for years where she had developed a career in PR. But as the rental crisis worsened, it became harder to live there.
“I had to move three times in two years,” says Kelly. “After having an idyllic four years living in my apartment, the owner decided to sell it. I moved into another place and, after a year, they said they were going to do it up. They told me I’d be able to move back in after four months, but what are you meant to do for those four months, sleep on somebody’s couch?” She was shocked when, four months later, she was offered the apartment back, but with an increase in cost from €1,500 to €2,650 a month.
After that, she moved in with a friend, but six months later, they were evicted so the landlord’s son could move in.
“At the time my boyfriend, who is now my husband, was based in Mayo,” she says. “At that stage, it just made complete sense to move to the west.”
She packed her bags and moved to Mayo in September 2017, where she has set up her own PR business, Creative Strike. So far, she is earning as much – if not more – than she was when she lived in Dublin.
“I’m paying €350 a month for half a mortgage on a four-bedroom house with a huge garden in Foxford. In my last place in Dublin, I was paying €1,000 a month to share an apartment with a friend,” she says.
I had preconceptions about people in the west before I moved here
“There needs to be some work done to make people realise that there are some very progressive, open-minded, liberal people living in the west of Ireland and many of them have always lived here,” she says. “I had preconceptions about people in the west before I moved here. I surprised myself. I was living in Dublin, and we get conditioned by our peers. Certainly, there is far more depth to the people living in the west than I think a lot of people in Dublin or other areas would give us credit for.”
Like Kelly, Conor Wilson made Dublin his home when he went to college there.
"It really was home for me for 16 years," Wilson reflects. "I loved it. I worked for Gay Community News (GCN) and I was publishing too, and I was in and out of the club every weekend, and it was very full on and hard to maintain. I was getting a bit older; I was 34, going on 35, and I didn't have a house. I was renting with my best friend.
“I got approved for a mortgage in Dublin, started looking there, and then I suddenly realised that I was going to be living in a one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Dublin because that was all I was able to afford. I wasn’t going to be around my friends and I wouldn’t be in the city centre, which is where I had always spent my time.”
While on holidays in Bali, Wilson got an email from his father, which cryptically said: "Dublin is finished."
“I rolled my eyes really hard,” Wilson laughs. “I thought this rural man, accustomed to his rural way of life, thinks that Dublin has fallen into the ground, and I laughed it off. And then a few months later I thought, actually there might be something there.
"The house I was in, it was lovely and I was very lucky with the rent. We were paying €1,400 a month for a two-bedroom house on South Circular Road. But it was cold and falling apart and needed a lot of investment, and there was ice in the kitchen sink sometimes. It was really cold."
Country boy at heart
His parents owned a house in Westport and offered it to him to rent, and he decided to give it a go. He still lives there today, and pays about three-quarters of what he was paying in Dublin.
“The first six months were really hard. I was kind of depressed, but then once I got through a year, it just became a breeze. Now I go up to Dublin and I think, ‘I’d like to go home now, to the space and the birds singing and the sea.’ Maybe I’m just a country boy at heart.
“I do see a change here as well. There are a lot of people moving to Westport, and it’s a great place to move to. It has a lot of culture and arts. It has a lot going for it and I feel really privileged now to live here.”
Katie Guinnane (38), who is a secondary school teacher, lived in Dublin for most of her adult life, but finally moved to Galway in June. She feels that she was pushed out of Dublin.
“I was living in Dublin for 13 years and moved to Dusseldorf for 10 months with my partner in that time. While we were gone, the house I lived in went from €1,400 a month to €2,000. We had also gotten a dog, so when I moved back I couldn’t find anywhere I could afford where I could have the dog with me.”
The following months were incredibly challenging, as she moved from place to place in Dublin with her dog. She was paying about €700 a month in each of those places to live in what was essentially digs.
I was tired of traffic, of the cost of living, and having no space
“One day, I said, ‘I can’t do this, I need an out.’ My dad owns a house that was rented in Galway city, so he gave his tenants four months’ notice. That was the impetus for the move, but I was also ready to leave. I was tired of traffic, of the cost of living, and having no space.”
She doesn’t have a job yet, but is hopeful that she will find work as a secondary school teacher soon.
“My rent in Galway is €1,400 a month for a four-bedroom house with a huge garden,” she says. “In the last house I was living in in Dublin, the rent was €1,950 for a two-bedroom terraced house.”
Like Guinnane, Fionn Mitchell (24), and his girlfriend Keanna Casey (23), felt that they were pushed out of Dublin by an increasingly challenging rental market in the capital. Mitchell, who is originally from Finglas, readily admits that he would prefer to be living in his home city.
“As a tour guide, I built an affinity with my city,” he says. “I felt really connected to it, so it was hard when I realised that the city I loved didn’t love me back. I really bonded with Dublin, and to find that it didn’t matter was heartbreaking.”
Every bit of money we got was going into the rent
The couple moved to Galway at the beginning of May after a turbulent few months renting in Dublin. They briefly rented a flat in the garden of their Crumlin landlord's home, a situation that Casey calls "a nightmare".
“I was working in retail so I was making just above minimum wage, and every bit of money we got was going into the rent.”
The rent for that one-bedroom flat – which Casey says was “the size of someone’s kitchen” – was €1,200 a month. They are now paying €1,100 a month for an entire house in Galway city.
“It’s not proving a huge amount cheaper for us, but the quality is so different,” says Mitchell.
Before that, they rented in Clontarf, where they shared with another couple. It was €850 per couple, however there were countless issues.
“There was a mould problem and we could see that she had painted over the mould before,” says Casey. “We had to throw out loads of clothes and furniture that were ruined by the mould. Fionn had to go to the doctor as he got a fungal infection, psoriasis and eczema while living there. But because it was so cheap for Dublin, they knew they could get away with it.”
While Mitchell misses Dublin, he would live there again only if the rental situation improved. “Even if the apartment was small, as long as it was decent and reasonable, I’d be happy with that.”
For now, however, they are determined to try to settle into Galway life and learn to be happy in a new city.
Change of pace
Martha Kearns and Ciarán Byrne decided to move west for a change of pace with their two children, and decided to set up their own business, which is called StoryLab.
Before the move, Kearns was news editor at the Sunday Business Post and Byrne was associate editor at the Irish Independent.
“We had been in journalism for a long time and loved it, but we wanted to do something a bit different,” says Kearns.
“We hadn’t considered leaving Dublin initially. Our first plan was to set up a business, so we started looking into that. We just wanted to set up a different way of working and living. With the long shifts in newspapers, it meant it was hard to see the children as much as you might want to. It was around then that we realised that, with improvements in technology, there was no reason we had to stay in Dublin.”
Kearns had been living in Dublin for 20 years and is originally from Sligo. She left the west of Ireland when she was 18.
“We were driving back to Dublin from Sligo one weekend and we said, ‘Why don’t we just give it a go in Sligo?’” she says.
“There’s no commute really, so I was completely up for it,” says Byrne. “It was clear that there were a lot of supports to help you get a business off the ground there. We could have established a business in Dublin, but starting off in a less crowded field was a benefit.”
Byrne says that when they moved to Sligo in 2014, the living costs were “transformational”.
"We would have been on pretty good salaries in Dublin and we found that buying a place there would have been quite challenging. We were living in a two-bedroom apartment in Portmarnock, which we rented. Now, we're hoping that we might be able to build a house this year. That's something we never thought would have been possible before."
Their rent in Sligo is now around half of what they were paying in Dublin.
“If you’re living in Dublin and more than half your income is going on rent and childcare, it’s not really a sustainable future for some people,” Byrne says. “It’s not possible for everyone to move west, and we don’t want to come across as smug. We totally get that for some people it just isn’t possible to change careers. But for other people it is doable.”
Jack Wynne took moving to the west one step further and moved to the Aran Islands.
After living in Dublin for a year, where he worked in a bank, he started to think about leaving the capital city in the face of rising rents and a poor quality of life. First he moved to Galway, before continuing on to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.
"In an entry-level role earning €20,000-€30,000 a year, you're spending about a quarter of your salary on rent in Galway," Wynne says. "Up in Dublin most people on entry-level jobs are spending about a third of their salary on rent, if not more. You're looking at paying at least €600 out of your €1,800 a month on rent in Dublin. You're also spending an hour on the M50 in the morning and an hour in the evening, so that's 10 hours a week. When I moved to Galway, I converted that extra 10 hours into a second job in a pub. I worked two nights a week and that was an extra €5,000 a year I gained from not sitting in traffic."
He then moved to Inisheer after some encouragement from his sister, who already lived there.
“She said ‘you’ll have more time and money and you’ll be just as happy’,” he says. “There’s nobody out there that isn’t happy because you have everything on your doorstep. It’s nice and easy. You can meet up with your friends in five minutes, you can get to the beach with no hassle and you earn the same money. I lived there for nine months last year and three months this year working as a bartender and it was incredible.”
While he is now living in Toronto, he hopes to return one day.
“The west is such a great place and there’s so much to do and see there,” he says. “Long term, I would love to settle there.”