‘Whenever Heaney came to town to teach I’d cut his hair’

New to the Parish: Sydney and Silke Moss arrived from Boston in 2021

Sydney and Silke Moss, who relocated from Boston to Dublin. ‘Everyone was so friendly and outgoing and no one had any airs or graces about them,’ says Silke. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sydney and Silke Moss, who relocated from Boston to Dublin. ‘Everyone was so friendly and outgoing and no one had any airs or graces about them,’ says Silke. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Sydney Moss was in his late 20s when he opened his own hair salon in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1968. The Liverpudlian hairdresser had arrived in the United States six years previously and worked in a salon in the town of Woodbridge, Virginia, before finding a job in Boston. When he set up his own salon, professors from the local universities – Harvard and MIT – turned up looking for haircuts. One day, a visiting scholar with an Irish accent walked through the door.

“It was Seamus Heaney,” Moss says with a smile. “For 25 years whenever he came to town to teach I’d cut his hair. I talked to him about what it was like growing up in Liverpool. I’d been brought up with all the prejudices that a Jewish ghetto in Liverpool can give a man. The Irish were seen as the low ones on the totem pole and I grew up surrounded by those jokes. But Seamus Heaney really took me to task over that. He changed my whole idea of what Ireland and the Irish were like. I’ve done a full 180 since then, I think this place is fabulous.”

Moss is speaking to me via Zoom from his new home on Sir John Rogerson Quay overlooking the Liffey and Dublin Port. His wife of more than 50 years, Silke, sits beside him. The couple moved to Dublin from Boston in August 2021, joining their daughter who is married to an Irish man and has lived here for more than 25 years.

"We kept saying while Trump was president, 'If he gets elected again we’re leaving'. Then Joe Biden got in and we were really happy but the nightly news was so full of anger"

“Our granddaughter has an Irish name,” says Silke, after inquiring how I pronounce my name. “She’s called Aoise.”

The couple started thinking about moving to Europe – the continent where they were both born – a few years ago. They briefly considered Portugal and also Berlin, a city where they lived before for three years. Then they started to discuss Dublin, the city where their daughter moved in the 1990s.

“The politics had really started to get to us the last couple of years,” explains Silke. “We kept saying while Trump was president, ‘If he gets elected again we’re leaving’. Then Joe Biden got in and we were really happy but the nightly news was so full of anger. We were just so frustrated and it was really affecting us.”

Silke was 21 when she emigrated from Berlin to Boston with her mother and brother. Before leaving, the young college graduate had also trained in retail and sales in Germany, and quickly found a similar role in Boston’s Jordan Marsh department store. She worked her way up through the store’s training programme to become an assistant buyer in high-end fashion.

Sydney started his hairdressing career in London before moving briefly to Wales and then back to Liverpool. He moved to the US in 1962. The couple met through a blind date set up by one of the models who attended Sydney’s salon. The couple spent three months together and then went their separate ways.

Sydney subsequently met another woman who he quickly married but the relationship was short-lived and after 18 months they split up. He got back in touch with Silke and the couple were married in 1968 – “a small wedding with finger sandwiches and a lovely three-tiered wedding cake” – and went on to have a son and a daughter.

More than two decades later, their daughter announced she had secretly applied to go to Trinity College after falling in love with Dublin during a brief trip to Ireland. And so, Sydney and Silke started travelling from Boston to visit their daughter.

“Every time we came we fell in love with Ireland more and more,” says Silke. “Everyone was so friendly and outgoing and no one had any airs or graces about them.”

“There’s a certain civility about the country that I don’t think you can even write about,” adds Sydney. “It’s amazing to me that it’s so widespread. It’s an amazing accomplishment and it’s not written about enough.”

In April 2021, the couple decided to pack up their belongings and swap their lives in Boston for a new start in Ireland. They were conscious of the liberal Boston bubble where they lived and were increasingly worried about the political situation unfolding in the rest of the country. Watching the storming of the Capitol building in Washington DC live on television on January 6th, 2021, was particularly frightening, they say.

'Dublin has all the culture we had in Boston without having to travel an hour to get to the theatre, the museum or the symphony'

“The denial afterwards as if nothing had happened, that just wears away at you. And then the racism and the guns,” says Silke, her voice trailing away. “You reach an age where you don’t need this any more and we were fortunate enough to be able to make this choice,” adds Sydney.

The couple visited Dublin in June to find a place to live and settled on an apartment in the recently completed 22-storey Capitol Dock building. They arrived with their belongings two months later in the early hours of an August morning. “It was Sydney’s birthday and Vanessa [their daughter] had filled the apartment with balloons and beautiful flowers,” remembers Silke. “It was 5.30am and we were dead tired after the long journey but we looked out at the view of the Liffey, the Dodder and the port and it was just gorgeous. We felt really lucky, we knew we had made the right move.”

Nearly five months on, the couple are still happy with their decision. “Dublin has all the culture we had in Boston without having to travel an hour to get to the theatre, the museum or the symphony. Here we literally walk everywhere and we’re getting used to the bus system. It reminds us a bit of Berlin. It’s not a beautiful city but it has an edge to it and has all that culture and so much to offer.

“The next thing is we’re hoping to meet some people our age,” she adds. “We’ve joined the Irish Georgian Society, the RHA and the Goethe-Institut but it is more difficult to meet people as you get older. It would be nice to make some new connections.”

The couple love the international feel of the city and hearing languages from across the globe.

“Even with the cab drivers you get every nationality in the world,” says Sydney. “Of course there are prejudices here but from what I’ve seen, I don’t think the racism that exists in other countries could get that bad here. I think it’s the nature of the Irish. There’s a certain civility here that makes the place tick very well.”

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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