‘People label Ireland as conservative, but it is very forward-thinking’

New to the Parish: Trevor and Kevin Baker-O’Haire arrived in 2015 from England

Trevor and Kevin Baker-O’Haire on the grounds of Ashford Castle where they both work after moving to Ireland in 2015. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Trevor and Kevin Baker-O’Haire on the grounds of Ashford Castle where they both work after moving to Ireland in 2015. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Trevor Baker-O’Haire has always considered himself Irish. Born in London to Irish parents, he spent his teenage years during the 1980s in Co Mayo after his family moved to Ireland when he was 11. However, as soon he had finished school, Trevor packed his bags and headed back to London.

“It was the lack of employment at the time. Jobs were very scarce in Ireland and I was really lucky to be able to go back to the UK and explore. But I’ve always felt at home here and always wanted to come back.

“Despite the accent, I identify as Irish,” he adds with a strong London lilt to this statement.

Trevor is speaking to me via Zoom from his office in the five-star Ashford Castle hotel in the village of Cong, Co Mayo. Also on the call is his husband, Kevin Baker-O’Haire, who was born and brought up in Kent. The couple met in London 25 years ago, entered into a civil partnership in 2006, and were married as soon as legislation legalising same-sex marriage was introduced in England and Wales in 2014.

“Technically, because it’s backdated, we’ve officially been married since 2006,” says Kevin.

The couple regularly visited Ireland for holidays and often discussed moving here after retirement. Then, in 2015, they decided to take the leap, pack up their lives and head west. “We decided a few years ago why wait, let’s make the move. No regrets, it’s the best decision we ever made.”

Kevin took early retirement from teaching, a job he’d passionately pursued for nearly four decades.

“I had 38 years of teaching and it was the best job ever. Really, 38 years of complete bliss. You’re making a difference to people and communities, and that’s always been my raison d’etre, making a difference. It was about making sure ordinary children got quality teaching and it proved time and time again that it’s the best job ever. You get some dark days, but overall the response from children and families was amazing.”

‘New nation’

After the couple first met in the mid-1990s they lived together in London before moving to Devon where Trevor says the local acceptance was “incredible”. “We were open and honest about our relationship and were completely accepted in both our jobs and by colleagues and neighbours. We didn’t come across any prejudice at all.”

In May 2015, when Ireland voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, the couple began making plans to move. “Before that there was that feeling in your mind that Ireland still had that religious conservatism,” says Kevin. “But when the vote came through with an overwhelming yes it felt like a new nation. Automatically it was like, that is where we need to be.”

Trevor admits he initially struggled to believe that the country, which had often rejected him as a teenager for being different, had delivered such a clear message of acceptance. “Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, it was rarely mentioned. So it just felt unbelievable that this had happened.”

The couple moved over shortly before Christmas 2015 and spent the winter sorting out a house, bank accounts and working through the stacks of paperwork required to relocate their lives across the Irish Sea. Unlike so many who have moved to Ireland for a new life, they had huge support and guidance from Trevor’s family, who live in Mayo and Sligo.

After finding a home near Headford, Co Galway, Trevor went looking for work. He discovered, following a visit to Ashford Castle for afternoon tea, that the hotel had a job opening and submitted a CV. With his background in finance, he secured the role in the hotel’s accounts department where he continues to work today.

Meanwhile, Kevin missed the social interaction of his teaching and so applied to work as a breakfast host at the Ashford Lodge – the whitewashed country house on the castle estate. “I was ideally suited to it because it involved all the things I was used to – interacting positively with people, using my personal skills to welcome people. I still get a buzz from welcoming people in the mornings.”

Trevor went on to become a member of the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equality, Action) group, which was established by the Red Carnation hotel group to celebrate diversity among staff, including those at Ashford Castle.

“Coming from Ireland in the 1980s to be working for a company now which in this day and age is actually celebrating difference and not just accepting you, to have a voice and be the person that you are, that’s just phenomenal in my mind.”

The hotel also took concrete steps during the pandemic to ensure all staff remained connected and engaged through the lockdowns, he adds. “Our general manager was very proactive in setting up what we call our wellness committee, which is made up of volunteers who can support others. It was basically to keep people in contact with each other and embrace that sense of community at a difficult time. I think it made us all feel stronger.”

Fostering

Kevin and Trevor also used the lockdowns to investigate the possibility of fostering a child, something they had always considered. They were recently approved for fostering and say the Irish social services’ acceptance of a gay couple is proof of how much things have changed in Ireland.

“We wondered if same-sex couples could sign up but there was absolutely no issue, it was almost like why are you even asking that question,” says Trevor.

“People tend to label Ireland as being conservative, but in actual fact, in our experience, Ireland is very forward-thinking,” adds Kevin.

The couple say they’ve encountered few challenges in building their new life together in Ireland over the past six years and feel a deep connection to the country. Trevor says his bond to Ireland is “stronger than ever” while Kevin, who has no Irish family connections, says he “feels like somebody who has found their home”.

“Because of what Ireland stands for, and what my community stands for, I feel a part of this place,” he says. “I feel embraced by the Irish. The Department of Justice has my application for citizenship, so I’m hoping to officially be Irish soon and singing the national anthem in Irish.”

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