When Martha De Haro met an Irish man called Eoin at her sister’s wedding in Mexico four years ago, he didn’t make much of an impression. The Irish teacher had travelled thousands of miles from his hometown in Co Clare for the marriage of his childhood friend on a beach in Mexico during a heatwave.
“I remember all the Irish visitors were struggling so much in that heat,” says De Haro. “I felt like apologising: it was one of Mexico’s hottest days in years, over 40 degrees. That’s where I met Eoin, but we didn’t really hit it off.”
A few months later Eoin got in touch because he was planning a trip to Mexico City. This second meeting felt different, and the couple started dating.
“He visited in 2019. There was no pandemic; we were happy and free. I then went on holiday to Ireland that summer and had two weeks with the sun shining all the time. It felt exciting, but I don’t think at that point we were serious. My mum already thought I was crazy to cross the Atlantic for a guy I’d only spent a few weeks with.”
Fast-forward three years and De Haro is speaking to me via Zoom from her home in Clarecastle, in Co Clare, where she and her now husband are preparing for the arrival of their baby in September. The love story that brought this young Mexican to the west of Ireland in the middle of pandemic was exhilarating and joyful but equally exhausting and difficult, she admits.
Born and brought up in Mexico City, De Haro loved learning languages; she spoke French and English from an early age and later learned German. After school she studied for a degree in philosophy before embarking on a second bachelor’s degree, in Hispanic linguistics. She then worked as a scriptwriter and presenter on a series of radio documentaries about Mexico’s 68 indigenous languages.
You never imagine you’re going to get married in the middle of a pandemic on the other side of the world with six people
“It’s incredible: I never realised how much cultural variety there was in Mexico until I did this research. Some indigenous languages in Mexico are spoken by millions, but others are spoken by as few as 10-15 people within the same family, so they’re dying. A lot of people don’t think it’s worth keeping these languages alive. They worry their kids will face discrimination if they speak a language nobody else uses and that’s seen as useless.”
When she first met Eoin, in 2018, De Haro was working as an assistant professor at the Universidad Panamericana; the following year she joined Mexico’s UN Office on Drugs and Crime as a writer and editor. In late 2019 Eoin took a break from work, and the couple spent three months together in Mexico. He returned to Ireland in early January 2020, blissfully unaware of the global pandemic ahead.
In March, Ireland went into lockdown, followed by Mexico about a month later. But De Haro and Eoin pressed on with their long-distance relationship. “Neither of us were thinking of breaking up, even as hard as it was to be thousands of kilometres apart during the pandemic. We’d realised what we had was worth continuing.”
In August 2020 the couple decided De Haro would visit Ireland for three months and work remotely for the UN from Eoin’s home.
“I remember the airport was completely empty, something I’d never seen in Mexico City. I was a bit paranoid about getting sick and being irresponsible, so I wore special glasses, two masks and gloves. Eoin wanted to be sure we didn’t give the wrong impression, so he told everyone we were following all the quarantine rules. I found that weird: in Mexico City you wouldn’t care what other people think, but here in Ireland we had to let the whole town know we were following rules.”
While De Haro sometimes felt lonely stuck at home during those three months, she and Eoin became very close, and when the time came to leave she did not feel ready. “About three days before I had to go back I started crying. I knew it was probably the end of the relationship. But Eoin said no, knelt down on one knee and proposed to me. He’d planned to do it at the Cliffs of Moher, but I got impatient so he did it in the livingroom. I knew there would be sacrifices but it was clear to me by that point that I wanted to be with him forever.”
Every time I read about the Irish language I think how much Latin America could learn from what Ireland has done
De Haro still returned to her family in Mexico, who were surprised by her decision but supportive. “It wasn’t like me: this was the only impulsive decision I’d ever taken in my life, and it was the biggest. My family was shocked but happy.”
The couple started making preparations for their marriage, and De Haro returned to Ireland in March 2021. Two months later, on a sunny day in Doolin, the couple got married with a wedding party of six other people. De Haro felt torn between the happiness of marrying the man she loved and the sadness of not having her family there on the day. “You never imagine you’re going to get married in the middle of a pandemic on the other side of the world with six people, without your parents. I was very happy — it was what we both wanted — but it was difficult not having my family there.”
After the wedding De Haro continued working remotely for the UN; she also started learning Irish, from a retired teacher in the village. “When I came to Ireland I wasn’t really aware of the Irish language. But I became fascinated by this language which felt so alive but I’d never heard of. I’m pretty sure 99 per cent of Mexicans think Irish people only speak English.
“I started reading about the growth of Gaelscoileanna, the struggles to keep the language alive, and it really resonated with me, as many language activists in Mexico face the same challenges now as Ireland faced 20 years ago.
“Every time I read about the Irish language I think how much Latin America could learn from what Ireland has done, not only to keep it alive but make it useful and a tool for day-to-day living.”
De Haro is now preparing for the arrival of her baby and is determined the child will know about his or her Mexican heritage. “This is something that’s been in my head since I found out I was pregnant. I want my child to understand Mexican cultural references, even jokes, music and TV shows. I want my child to be able to relate to my family, to my language.”
However, she’s also looking forward to bringing up a child in her new Irish home. “I think children have a way healthier childhood in Ireland. There’s a lot of emphasis on wellbeing and staying active. And there’s that strong sense of community. Being pregnant here has made me appreciate much more the good things Ireland has to offer. I think it’s a great place to raise a child. And if I manage to get my baby to speak English, Irish and Spanish I’ll be a very happy mum.”