New to the Parish: ‘It’s so much smaller and quieter here’
A series on the lives of recent arrivals to Ireland: Since he popped the question in a Buenos Aires cafe, Celina Vieites and her Irish husband have never been apart
Celina Vieites and her future Irish husband were sitting in a cafe in Buenos Aires the day he popped the question.
“He said, ‘Would you like to go out?’, but I didn’t understand. I thought he meant leave the cafe. I said, ‘Wait until I finish my tea’, and he went completely white. He thought it was a rejection.”
Dating an Irish man was a refreshing and welcome break from her usual Argentinian boyfriends.
“Argentinian men would be all over you all the time. You go to any pub or nightclub in Argentina and men grab at you. There’s even now a campaign for women to be respected because it’s very macho.”
Celina’s husband, Macdara Mac Cathmhaoil, was so slow at making a move she began questioning whether he was interested at all. The couple met at a cultural exchange in 2009 soon after Macdara moved to Argentina to learn Spanish.
“He was chat, chat, chat. His Spanish is actually quite good but he’s very lazy so he never speaks it so all the conversations were in English. He’s kind of international man of mystery, he speaks a little bit of lots of languages.
“Basically since that moment we never left each other.”
When Macdara returned home, the couple stayed in touch through Skype and a few months later Celina travelled to Ireland to visit with her three-year-old son.
She says Dublin reminded her of a “mini London”. “Mac’s a very proud Dub. He said you can’t say that, it’s very atmospheric. But you can still see the British influences here.
“I realised Dublin is a city where you have to know the little things because there are no big symbols like Big Ben and Tower Bridge. Dublin is the little things, the streets and pubs.”
After they were married in 2010, the couple moved to Paris where Celina had been working when she gave birth to her son Felix.
“France was tough for Macdara. I didn’t know Dublin well then but now I realise why. It’s so much smaller and quieter here. It’s more human sized.” They returned to Ireland in 2011 and began a new life in Clogherhead, Co Louth.
Although Felix only spoke Spanish and French when he arrived, he quickly made friends and learned English. “He picked it up so quickly that now he only wants to speak English. Spanish is not cool.”
Celina, on the other hand, struggled to build friendships. “It’s not easy to make friends here. I remember the mammys in the school, many of them would say let’s go for coffee. I’d wait for the invitation but it never happened.
“In Argentina, you walk into a room and make 10 friends but that’s something special about the Argentinians.”
She also noticed how self-conscious Irish people are about their appearance.
“The way Argentinians feel about their body is different. Irish people feel they have problems with their bodies, like they have scars. My husband tells me it’s the Catholic education, it’s like your body should be hidden away.”
In 2012, Celina gave birth to her second son Liam at the Drogheda midwife unit. Giving birth in Ireland was “absolutely fabulous”, she says.
“There is more respect for childbirth here. In Argentina, something like 60 per cent of women end up having a C-section whether they want it or not. Because I had a healthy pregnancy, they offered me the option to give birth only with midwives and no doctors.”
Despite her positive childbirth experience, Celina describes the Irish healthcare as extremely poor.
“At the beginning I could not believe certain things because I thought, we’re in Europe and this is worse than my own country.”
Friends at home were shocked to hear stories of patients on trolleys in Irish hospitals. “I have an Argentinian doctor friend who said you can’t have people on trolleys. But yes, it exists.”
Despite her enthusiasm for her new home country, Celina misses life in Argentina.
“Sometimes I don’t want to visit because that moment of leaving is awful. And since I had children it’s even worse because for my parents, they’re the only grandchildren they have, so it’s heartbreaking. It’s really, really hard.”
Despite her ongoing struggle to really fit in here, Celina is happy to live in a country where people trust each other.
“In Spanish the word is solidaridad. There’s a sense of solidarity here. I’ve never seen that anywhere else in the world.”