I expected everyone in Ireland to be drunk and Dublin to be dangerous, but I’m a big fan now

New to the Parish: Stewart Moll first arrived from the US in 2001, left and returned in 2017

Stewart Moll  at the Guillamene Swimming Cove, Tramore, Co Waterford. Photograph: Mary Browne

Stewart Moll at the Guillamene Swimming Cove, Tramore, Co Waterford. Photograph: Mary Browne

 

When Stewart Moll was in his mid-30s he wrote a list of exactly what he was looking for in his dream woman. It was 2001 and he had been offered a work transfer to Ireland, where he would spend three months in Dublin. Before leaving, his mother urged him to try to find a wife in Ireland. When he brought this up with a friend, she suggested he jot down what he wanted from a life partner.

“When I showed it to her she said ‘that’s why you’re not married, your list is too long’. But I believed she was out there.”

This ideal woman would be intelligent, attractive, have thick hair, be adventurous, enjoy culture and have a nice voice, he recalls. He also wanted to meet a woman with lots of sisters.

“It’s embarrassing, but when I was growing up it was all boys in my house and next door there was a house with all girls. I loved being invited over, it smelled nice and seemed calmer. In my house the boys were breaking things and killing each other, I thought I’d like to see more of that environment.”

While in Dublin, Moll started visiting a small international church in the city. When the September 2001 attacks took place, the church members asked him to talk to the congregation about the impact of the event on American lives. After speaking, a young woman approached him.

“She told me she was starting a postdoc in Boston and I just fell in love with her. She didn’t even belong to the church but because of 9/11 she had decided to come in. So I started to get to know Geraldine and then I realised she had all 10 things from the list.”

Born and brought up in Worcester, Massachusetts, Moll had no Irish connections despite knowing countless Irish-Americans in nearby Boston. “All my friends and neighbours were Irish, even my babysitter, she was Irish.”

At school, the student body was far more diverse. “It was black, Hispanic, Asian, Irish, Scottish, it was wonderful. It was a time in America when everyone knew each other, people didn’t lock their cars or their houses, and everyone helped each other. But over the years America has lost that. It has become much more insulated and people are hyper-sensitive about political beliefs.”

Moll was working as a financial consultant when he was sent to Dublin in 2001. By the time he returned to the States three months later to start a new position in Philadelphia, he had decided he wanted to marry Geraldine.

“Her father was a number 16 bus driver, the route in Rathfarnham, and her mother was a teacher, but when my wife’s grandparents passed away they got the farm in Kinvara and all moved there. She’s one of those people who can speak three to four languages, play instruments and has dozens of publications. You don’t come across people like her too often.”

I asked her mother for permission. She told me Geraldine could make her own decisions

When Geraldine moved to Boston to carry out research at Harvard medical school, Moll started driving the six hours back and forth from Philadelphia to take her out on dates. Having bought an engagement ring upon her arrival in the US, Moll waited a few months before actually popping the question. “She invited me to spend Christmas in her mother’s house and I wanted to be honourable so I asked her mother for permission. She told me Geraldine could make her own decisions.”

A month later the couple got engaged and were married in Spanish Point in Co Clare. They spent the following three years in Boston before moving to Switzerland in 2007 for Geraldine’s work. In 2013, the couple had a baby girl they named Ondine.

“Switzerland is beautiful and the people are nice on the surface. But they don’t really like outsiders and it’s actually a bit like going back to the 1940s and 1950s. We lived on the French side, in Lausanne, where we could jump on the Vespa down to the beach with a bottle of wine, some cheese and have a swim every day.”

The move back to Dublin in 2017 was difficult at first but the couple quickly settled into Irish life. “We were already coming to Ireland to visit every Christmas and Dublin for me represented those three months in 2001 when I met Geraldine and was out every night. That was one of the best moments of my life.

“It was refreshing being back in Ireland and for me, my French isn’t that great, so it was wonderful to be back speaking English. For my wife, she’s a really good example of the reverse brain drain – people who are farmed abroad and then realise Ireland is a great place to live; you don’t have to go to another country for a good life.”

Our daughter  knew she was Irish before coming here but it wasn’t tangible. Now she speaks Irish and does Irish dancing in the kitchen with Geraldine

While in Dublin, Moll began restoring old, abandoned bikes in his free time and eventually set up Green Bikes of Ireland – a charity dedicated to rebuilding bikes and offering them at affordable prices and as long-term rentals to university students and people without the means to purchase their own bike.

He has continued working on the charity since the family moved to Tramore in Co Waterford earlier this year. He hopes to partner with a university so students can rent the bikes on a yearly basis while also donating one bike each month to someone who is homeless.

“My goal is to have 10-20 bikes at each university and make them recognisable so that people say, ‘Oh that’s one of those green recycled bikes, they’re really cheap.’”

Moll loves watching his daughter growing up in Ireland, first in Dublin and now in Tramore by the sea. “She knew she was Irish before coming here but it wasn’t tangible. Now she speaks Irish and does Irish dancing in the kitchen with Geraldine.”

He admits that the perception he had of Ireland growing up has completely changed. “I used to have this negative view and thought everyone would be drunk and Dublin was a dangerous place. It was very backwards, probably from watching movies. But what I’ve learned is Ireland is actually quite modern and people are really down to earth and practical.

“I never thought I would end up in Ireland but I feel the universe brought me here. I’m a big fan of Ireland now, I love being here.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish

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